The Strength in Togetherness

togetherness

Last week we looked at the strength in aloneness – that state where we find God so completely our Source that the presence or absence of others does not affect our joy, meaning, and purpose in life.

This week we want to look at the strength in togetherness – that state where we enjoy a personal network of trustworthy people to connect with and share reciprocal counsel and encouragement.

As I have journeyed through life as a single woman, I have learned to be much more dependent on God and far less dependent on people. I have learned genuine contentment in my aloneness in God.

This was not always the case. In my younger years I feared being alone and avoided it at all costs. The idea of being single all my life terrified me because of this deeper fear. But God has graciously taken me on a wonderful journey of finding my core identity as His child, to the point that the presence or absence of others has little effect on my sense of well-being.

On this same wonderful journey my appreciation for the people God has placed in my life has grown and continues to grow. I would never be where I am today without the network of people God has strategically placed in my life. Some are biologically related to me, but some aren’t. This network has become my family.

Family Redefined

“Family isn’t always blood. It’s the people in your life who want you in theirs. The ones who accept you for who you are. The ones who would do anything to see you smile, and who love you no matter what.”  -Unknown

Many have found it’s not necessarily those we are related to by blood who most accept us for who we are and stand loyally by us no matter what. Blood isn’t always thicker than water. What binds people together most securely is the love God puts in our hearts for each other, and the grace He gives us to extend to the other. Securing that bond even more is when we share common goals and passions.

Jesus redefined “family” when He said, “Whoever does the will of My Father in heaven, that person is My brother and sister and mother.” [1] This didn’t exclude His biological family unless they chose not to be part of His redefined family, but expanded it to include those adopted into His Heavenly Father’s family.

As disciples and followers of Jesus, we are also part of this family Jesus referred to, making us brothers and sisters to each other. Whether or not we are part of a loving and supportive biological family, we are part of a much larger global spiritual family. As in our biological families, we may not find all to be “trustworthy people to connect with and share reciprocal counsel and encouragement,” but we do have a much larger pool to select from to be part of our personal network.

Jesus and Paul as Examples

As we’ve already observed, Jesus had “family” beyond his biological family. For most of his ministry years, at least, it seems He spent much of His time with people. His selection of disciples to form His own “network,” as well as an even smaller group within that network to form His “inner circle,” gives us an example of forming similar groups for ourselves. Jesus both ministered to and received ministering from this group, strengthening Him to minister to crowds of needy people.

Barry Danylak points out in his excellent book Redeeming Singleness, that although both Jesus and Paul were free as single men to invest all their time and energy in advancing the kingdom of God, neither lived a life alone.[2] He goes on to say that, “Intimacy has other dimensions, beyond the physical. A bond of spiritual unity as brothers and sisters in Christ can emerge through a oneness of mind in corporate prayer and worship, a shared eternal hope, and a common mission…. The freedom and flexibility of the single life will often open access to levels and opportunities of spiritual intimacy with other believers that those who are married do not have available in the same way and to the same degree.”

Danylak also observes that, “Though Paul did not have his own wife and family, he experienced profound familial intimacy within the spiritual family of God in which he had utterly invested himself.” [3]

I’m grateful for these two biblical examples of singles who exemplify strength both in aloneness and in togetherness with others.

Identifying “Safe” People

The best of relationships are those which are life-giving, not destructive. We’ve likely all experienced the difference. Destructive relationships often leave us gun-shy in developing new relationships in which we reveal our true selves.

In their book titled Safe People, Cloud and Townsend describe the characteristics of “safe” and “unsafe” people with who to share our innermost thoughts and feelings.[4] They point out that Jesus is the ultimate example of a trustworthy person, and use John 1:14 to define the three characteristics in Jesus we should look for in others:

  1. Connection – Jesus “became flesh and dwelt among us,” connecting with us right where we are. Safe people for us are those who are able to connect with us and walk alongside us through the difficulties and joys in both our lives. It’s difficult to share deeply with someone we don’t feel a connection with.
  2. Grace – John said that Jesus was “full of grace and truth.” Grace is showing favor and acceptance to another, rather than shame and condemnation, even when the person’s faults emerge. We want people in our lives who love and accept us even when our ugly side shows its face, which it will sooner or later. It is in this atmosphere of grace that we can grow and genuinely change, rather than pretending to be someone we aren’t in order to gain another’s acceptance.
  3. Truth – Not only was Jesus full of grace, He was also full of truth. Truth indicates honesty and genuineness. When we know a person to be “full of truth,” we know they won’t tell us we are “okay” in our thinking and behavior when we aren’t, because they want the best for us. They know how to be honest with us without condemning or shaming us.

These three characteristics combined describe a person who is safe and trustworthy to be our real selves with. In order to establish genuine relationships for reciprocal counsel and encouragement, we also need to portray these characteristics in our relating to them.

Purpose in “Unsafe” Relationships

From within their personal networks, both Jesus and Paul experienced abandonment and betrayal: Jesus from His disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, and Paul when standing trial.[5] In both cases, Jesus and Paul defaulted to their dependency on God who never leaves nor abandons us,[6] while at the same time extending grace to those who failed them.

Sometimes God has a purpose in allowing us to experience betrayal and thoughtlessness from others, as both Jesus and Paul experienced from some of their closest relationships. In some of those cases it meant the severance of the relationship when there was no change in behavior or attitude. In other cases, there was repentance and the relationship was restored. People aren’t perfect, and neither can we expect our relationships with them to be perfect. But when we’ve learned our strength in aloneness, their imperfection doesn’t need to leave us devastated. Sometimes it can shake us, but we learn from it and move on, either in reconciliation with them or in relationships with others.

Finding Safe People for Our Network

By now some of you may be despairing, wondering how to find even one other person to include in your own personal network. I totally understand. Trustworthy people who are willing to journey with us in life don’t appear out of thin air. They are worth their weight in gold because they are rare in this transient age where people become scattered and relationships become disposable. How do we find them?

First is to recognize that God, our Provider to supply all our needs,[7] does the best job in selecting people for our personal network, in His time. He wants us to learn to depend on Him first and foremost, so sometimes He delays in providing people for us, or allows rifts in relationships to occur, to encourage us to lean on Him more. All good things, friendships included, are gifts from Him. And so we wait on Him to give us His good things for us, as He chooses.

Second is realizing the truths of Proverbs 18:24 and Luke 6:31: “A man who has friends must himself to be friendly” and “Just as you want others to do for you, do the same for them.”  To establish our personal network, we will want to develop and portray the characteristics to others that we would like to have in those we want close to us. Sometimes we need to take the risk of trying to connect with others, rather than waiting for them to come to us. Asking questions and listening carefully to their answers is the best way to find common interests and values. Often a friendship progresses naturally from there, especially when we find we do connect on various levels and then make the time and effort to spend time with them.

Conclusion

While it’s important that we find strength in aloneness in God, it’s also important that we find strength in togetherness with others. God never meant for us to live in isolation. Many assume that when God told Adam it wasn’t good for him to be alone, He meant it wasn’t good for him to be single. But at the time Adam was the only human on the face of the earth. How lonely that must have felt! God knew that Adam needed human companionship – someone like him, but not exactly like him – to journey with in life. And so do we. Married or single, we all need others – multiple others – to be strengthened through reciprocal counsel and encouragement.

 

[1] Matthew 12:46-50

[2] Danylak, Barry. Redeeming Singleness (Foreword by John Piper): How the Storyline of Scripture Affirms the Single Life. Crossway. Kindle Edition.

[3] Danylak gives many examples of Paul’s relationships: “We are struck by how many different companions, partners, co-laborers, and underlings are mentioned from the period of his Gentile ministry. [E.g., Barnabas (1 Cor. 9: 6), Silas/ Silvanus (1 Thess. 1: 1), Luke (2 Tim. 4: 11), Mark (2 Tim. 4: 11), Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18: 18), Timothy (Acts 19: 22), Titus (2 Cor. 8: 23), Epaphroditus (Phil. 2: 25), Erastus (Acts 19: 22), Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4: 2), Clement (Phil. 4: 3), Urbanus (Rom. 16: 9), Tychicus (Col. 4: 7)]. His use of family language is robust as he addresses those in his church constantly as ‘brothers’ (Rom. 1: 13; 1 Cor. 3: 1; Gal. 4: 12; Phil. 1: 12; 1 Thess. 1: 4), and ‘sisters’ (Philem. 2), ‘children’ (Gal. 4: 19; 1 Cor. 4: 14), ‘legitimate sons’ (1 Tim. 1: 2; Titus 1: 4), and ‘kinsmen’ (Rom. 16: 7). He speaks especially affectionately of Timothy, who ‘as a son with a father . . . has served with me in the gospel’  (Phil. 2: 22). Timothy is instructed to treat old men as fathers, young men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters (1 Tim. 5: 1– 2). There are numerous indications in the New Testament of the deep spiritual intimacy Paul shared with his converts and fellow believers. To the Thessalonians he writes: ‘So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.’ (1 Thess. 2: 8). Similarly, he ‘yearns’ for the Philippians with the ‘affection of Christ’ (Phil. 1: 8); he longs to visit the Romans so to be ‘refreshed’ by their company (Rom. 15: 23, 32); and he weeps and embraces the Ephesian elders (Acts 20: 37) upon his departure from Miletus.”

[4] Cloud, Henry; Cloud, Henry; Townsend, John; Townsend, John. Safe People: How to Find Relationships That Are Good for You and Avoid Those That Aren’t. Zondervan.

[5] 2 Timothy 4:16b-17a

[6] Hebrews 13:5

[7] Philippians 4:19

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Comments

  1. Karen says

    Another great post and a nice complement to last week’s article. I totally agree, we do need people in our lives but we must be very careful about choosing safe people. After my husband died almost eight years ago, I found myself befriending several women, mostly single and most of whom were not friends with each other, so it was not like a group of us going around. I would spend time with one person one week, another at another time, etc. For awhile this worked very well, then geographic changes, work schedules and other things made getting together more and more difficult. Today I hardly see any of those women anymore, but we still keep in touch via email. In the meantime, God moved me into a new community where I feel like I have a family. So you may find that certain people will be in your life for a particular time and then God moves them out and other people in according to what you need at the time.

    • Fern Horst says

      Very true, Karen. Our network of people doesn’t always stay the same, nor are the people in it always connected to each other. What I’ve found to be consistent, though, is God’s provision — not always what I think I need, but always what He in His infinite wisdom knows I need. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to trust Him! Thanks for your comments!

  2. Ngoni says

    I thank God for this website and thank you for all the posts you have written so far. I feel connected to other single people who are going through the same things that I am currently experiencing. It is difficult for people who are married to sometimes understand where single people are coming from. I have never been married, and also had a fear of being alone. Throughout the years, Christ has been pruning me and showing me that I can truly learn to trust and depend on Him, even when the world may disagree. And though there has been much tribulation, I know the blessings from those will draw and keep me closer to Him.

    • Fern says

      Thanks, Ngoni. Your words are encouraging. I, too, have experienced Christ’s pruning which is painful at times, but the fruit of learning to trust and depend on Him more fully is totally worth it. I believe it not only makes us more content in our “aloneness,” but also makes our relationships healthier, too. God’s rich blessings to you!

  3. Otho Horst says

    Very good Fern. We need each other as we share together what the Lord is doing for us. Thank you very much for the way you encourage me and others. Keep writing and sharing what the Lord lays on your heart to share.

    God bless you and everyone that reads what you write with much joy and peace.

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