I am now an engaged man—but this isn't an article about getting cold feet or knees! However, I did get down on one knee and propose to my future wife just before Christmas. Thankfully, she said yes! It was exciting keeping a secret, getting a ring made, asking her Dad for permission, planning the proposal and surprise!
In contrast to all this, I've been reminded of our culture's ingrained desire to let romantic relationships define us. As fun as it is when people get together romantically, I feel badly for my single friends. Most conversations I'm in these days are about marriage plans, dates and when kids are on their way!
Not all significant relationships have to be romantic, and good relationships across the board are essential in shaping balanced people.
If it's true for the body it's true for the soul
This summer I've been injured twice, and I've had to refrain from surfing, playing sport, and going on wakeboarding trips. My recovery made me think about the body's healing process.
About three months ago I tore a ligament in my left pinkie finger during a touch rugby game. I strapped the swollen finger to my ring finger, and it has taken months to slowly come (almost) right!
A few weeks ago I was wakeboarding with some friends, and I wrenched my knee while landing a jump. I hobbled out of the boat, barely able to walk. Despite the relative severity of the knee injury, my doctor informed me that my little finger would take longer to heal.
The comparative size and blood flow through my knee will repair the tear faster than my finger will take to heal—I guess that's why you don't get frostbite on your knees!
Like my little finger at the end of the blood flow, we can take longer to heal when we isolate ourselves. We might stew in our own thoughts, missing out on communal life—and our culture perpetuates this individualistic quest.
Self-fulfilment has become the modern watchword at the cost of traditional moral commitment, says philosopher Charles Taylor. All this 'authentic living', this 'me-first' self-focused drive creates the opposite of well-balanced individuals.
'Modernity has overemphasised the significance of individuality until such individualism has become an end in itself; yet without ties to a larger community of meaning, without the efforts to develop and shape common projects, the triumph of the atomist individual is also the occasion for his or her greatest malaise.'
Get some handles
We have this romantic notion of lone warriors on a journey, cowboys riding into the sunset, accountable to no one. We're trained to keep our defences up, to show little weakness and we're afraid of neediness and vulnerability.
People who risk intimacy and give messy community a go, are invariably happier and much more real people at heart. Richard Rohr says: 'They have lots of "handles" that allow others to hold onto them and that allow them to hold onto themselves. People who avoid intimacy are imprisoned in a small and circumscribed world. Intimacy is the only gateway into the temple of human or divine love.'
A community challenges us, helping to meet our practical needs, honing our talents, allowing room for confession and healing, allowing us to work through conflict and allowing us to forgive.
What about science?
This recent TED talk about a landmark study from Harvard University shows surprising results in regard to relationships and communities. For 75 years this human development study has followed thousands of men through their lives. It is a comprehensive look at health, relationships, career, kids, habits—the study recorded everything.
The researchers believe the remarkable findings show the key to happiness and a successful life! While looking at the extensive data, they found people's health and happiness were directly proportionate to success in their relationships.
Not just marital, but relationships at work, with their kids, and in their social lives. Those who got dementia and Alzheimer's earliest were the ones with the weakest relationships. The ones who managed to pull through serious health scares often had a healthy family supporting them. In a nutshell: those who shut people out often turned to addiction, lived a less healthy life, and ultimately had a shorter life span.
Be a significant other
Striking the balance between knowing one's self and having self-worth, while not falling into the trap of vanity and self-obsession, is tough. Allowing others to shape you is tough, but it's how we were made to live. Surely then and only then can we be of any use to others.
We all have this longing to find 'one' significant other but we're made so much more significant if we're honed by a healthy range of people and in turn we'll be able to hone others.
Like a stagnant pond, we won't gain peace unless we ground ourselves with an inflowing, and an outflowing of love. I believe the inflowing comes from God, and the outflowing relates to everyone we meet, and on those two pegs: '...everything in God's Law and the Prophets hangs from them.' Matthew chapter 22, verse 40.
'We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.'—Dorothy Day
Brad Mills enjoys the outdoors and almost any sport... For a day job he's a journalist who works at the Rhema Broadcasting Group in Auckland New Zealand.
Brad Mill's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/brad-mills.html