My name is Todd, and I struggle to connect.
As one of the pastors and leaders of a church centers its efforts on connecting people, that’s an admittedly painful thing to confess. But I can’t get away from it. I have to own the reality. The evidence of disconnection in my life is too great to ignore.
If I’m being completely honest, this is not a new struggle for me, though I’d say it has become more pronounced in some ways in recent years. Truthfully, I’ve always trended in the direction of isolation.
I’m an introvert by personality, and while I assure you that I do like people (good to know as one of your pastors, right?), it often requires a great deal of energy and effort for me to relate with others as I should. Though I do believe this is how God wired me, and that with this wiring come some legitimate strengths, in the end I cannot use God’s design as an excuse to neglect God’s purpose, which is that I connect with Him and others in meaningful, life giving relationships. Introvert or not, if
I’m not making relationships a clear priority in my life, that’s a real problem.
This is very fresh for me, but in recent days, I’ve asked God to help me reflect on what’s at the root of my struggles with disconnection. What’s the heart of the struggle, and what does repentance and obedience in this area look like? While I don’t think I have all those answers right now, God has begun to reveal some things to me- things which I believe are necessary if I’m to become the connector that He has called me to be in Christ.
So why do I disconnect- and why might you? Here are a few things I’m finding…
1- I want to be in control of my life.
Connection requires us at some level to relinquish control of our lives and become subject to the choices of others, and for a perfectionist like me, God only knows what a dreadful thought that is. This is certainly true in a relationship with God, wherein I must surrender my whole life to Him. And while total surrender isn’t required in the same way in relationships with others, there is a real sense in which we must operate from a posture of openness, adaptability, and selflessness- all of which require that we loosen our grip on the reins of control. For me, tough as it is to admit, that’s often a difficult step to take.
2- I am afraid and insecure about what others think of me.
As I mentioned above, I actually really like people, and I want them to like me too- but sometimes, I want that so badly that I avoid letting others in out of fear that I won’t get it. This is a subset of the desire for control. To be truly connected to be known as I really am, not as I pretend to be. That requires an incredible degree of authenticity and vulnerability- and let’s be honest, it’s risky. I know that God knows the worst of me and accepts me in Christ, but how can I be sure that others, if they knew too, would respond in the same way? I can’t. It is, by nature and necessity, an unknown. But here’s what I do know- living a lie will guarantee me a life of disconnection. Even knowing that, though, the choice to reveal can be a real challenge.
3- I don’t want to give the effort that relationships require.
This won’t come as a shock to you, but people are complicated, and relationships will inevitably complicate your life, in both welcome and unwelcome ways. I know this too, and unfortunately, for too long I’ve been more concerned with my own comfort than I have been with connecting as God desires. In short, I’ve been lazy about relationships, preferring the seeming relative ease of life “on my own.” There is no way to avoid this or make it pretty. I simply can’t be relationally lazy and fulfill God’s call on my life. I must embrace the complications that connection bring, and draw on the grace and strength God gives to thrive in the face of them.
4- I don’t love others as God has loved me in Christ.
This one is most painful to admit, but it speaks more clearly and directly to the darkness of my heart apart from Christ. I call myself a follower of Jesus, and consider what that means- It signifies that God, in all His unblemished holiness, owed me nothing but wrath and instead gave me nothing but grace through Jesus. If that’s the kind of love I’ve received, and the One who gave it commands me to share it generously with others, why wouldn’t I? The only answer is sin and selfishness, and the only antidote is deep repentance. I must daily meditate on the reality of the Gospel in my life, and consider its implications in my relationships with others.
So if that’s the very raw diagnosis, what’s the solution? If anything I’ve written here resonates with you and your own struggles, I invite you to consider taking the following steps toward becoming the connector God desires that you would be in Him…
1- Be honest about the choices you’re making- and why you’re making them.
The most important person with whom you need to be honest about this is yourself. Ask God to show you if you’re deceived yourself in any way regarding the way you’re negotiating your relationships, and ask Him to reveal what heart idols (e.g. control, fear, pride, comfort) are underlying your choices. A healthy dose of self-understanding is a critical first step toward experiencing deep, lasting change.
2- Take a step to intentionally stretch yourself relationally.
If you’re going to see change here, you’re going to have to start somewhere. My counsel would be to start with one- one person who you love and trust, and who you’re confident loves you. Take a step to be honest with them where you haven’t been, to invest in that relationship where you’ve held back, to frankly do something that makes you a bit uncomfortable. Gain the courage to connect through persistent practice. I can’t promise that it will become easy or natural for you- I don’t yet know how my own story goes- but I know you’ll never know if you don’t get started.
3- Consider God’s initiative toward you as a motivator to take initiative with others.
Jesus’ words in John 13:34-35 are so telling and true- “Just as I have loved you, so also you are to love one another.” So what’s the first step to doing that? Consider over and over again just how God has loved you in Jesus. Make the Gospel your meditation and motivation for investing in right relationships, for becoming the connector that God has called you to be. Allow it to drive out- through humility, gratitude, and joy- the heart idols that keep you disconnected, and empower you to do things you never thought possible on your own.
I don’t know how this strikes you today, but I have no doubt it’s what God laid on my heart to share with you. I hope and pray you’ll be encouraged by the fact that one of your pastors is on this journey with you- and honestly, in this area, is in some of the very early stages. I want to move forward as God intends, whatever it takes- and I want you to do so too. Know that God is able, but we must participate in the process of change. I’m praying for you as I pray for myself, that we would be connected connectors that give God great glory and show and share His great love with others in Ascension Parish and beyond.