Written by Jessica Kim, Art by Christine Hwang
One day in class, my professor talked about a Japanese belief in the strength of bonds. No matter what obstacles, difficulties, and sufferings may come, such irresistible bonds cannot be broken—what has been damaged will be mended, because the pervasive strength of relationships overrides the torrents of time and change.
Immediately, my mind began to spiral into a crash course on all my bygone friendships: the people who’d fallen out of my life, the bonds that had turned out to be just as temporary and circumstantial as whatever trials and hardships came their way. Those who had been my friends in elementary school were no longer my friends in middle school, middle school friends did not carry into high school, and so on. As far back as I could remember, my relationships had been clearly circumstantial—once I was in a different place and stage of life, surrounded by different people and new experiences, the connections with my other friends always seemed to fade out…because things just seemed to change.
In spite of this, I’d always held onto the view that relationships are not contingent upon proximity and regularity. Even if I did not see or talk to a friend daily, I could trust that things would always pick up right where we left off, and if I ever ran into any trouble, I could trust that friend to have my back. A relationship built upon trust, commitment—I thought that this is what I felt about my relationships. And yet… I began to think things over one more time. These expectations, however earnest, failed to align with my reality. This view applies best to those who are in my vicinity, are my closest friends, and already do these things for me now. I can’t go to an old elementary school friend and expect them to listen to my troubles, let alone be there for me. Everyone has different expectations for relationships, and I couldn’t expect others to immediately adhere to and understand my own.
I continued to ponder the nature of relationships throughout the following days and weeks, meandering off into other overarching questions in search of some resolution. What are bonds? What is the basis of relationships? What truly connects people together? Tracing my relationships revealed them all to be circumstantial. Even when it came to my parents, it was neither my choice to be born to these specific people nor their choice to have a child with these specific traits. We seemed to be almost obligated to love each other. Thoroughly convinced of my tragic interpersonal skills, I pondered the most important relationship of all: between man and God. From the biblical standpoint, humans are inherently relational beings because we are made in the image of a Three-in-One, inherently relational God. Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, is the command given in the Garden of Eden. It is not good for man to be alone.
Whether or not in the romantic sense, we are made to crave connection, to desire companionship, and to gain strength in weakness. Relationships have a purpose and a promise in Christ.
In light of God’s word, relationships become all the more paramount because of our calling to be the church of Christ. Christians, near and far, in proximity or in Spirit, are bonded together by the blood of the Lamb, and it is His love that knits all together in perfect harmony.
This framework of love, friendships and bonds within the church is based on Christ, and He is the one who holds us together. Not common interests, not superficialities, not circumstances, not even a common enemy, but His Spirit that dwells in all of us, and because we love the same Jesus. When eyes are on Jesus, when His glory is the common goal, we have a true bond that is not contingent upon proximity or regularity, an unconditional and enduring love that overflows from the Father.
So, returning to my internal exposé on my relationship record, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of relationships was not making friends. Loving one another is not synonymous with being friends with everyone or staying in constant contact with everyone. Although some people are in our lives for a season, that does not negate the significance and worth of that relationship. And for believers, though we may not always be present in body, we are always bonded together by the same Spirit, and we know that even though we may part ways on whatever paths He takes us, we have an eternity together with God.
Rather than getting in the habit of lamenting the people who have left my life or faded out, I’ve resolved to be thankful for the times I’ve been able to share with friends past and present and to love those in my life to the utmost without fear or regret. Because, in the end, it’s not about how many friends I have, as some sort of basis for self-esteem. It’s not even about the reciprocation. It’s about loving others as He’s loved us and bringing the light of Christ wherever we go. And as people are called to go, and make disciples of all nations, we must go. We have to step out, leave—yet, as my professor said, the bonds that we have cannot be broken, because they are founded on the Rock that never changes, and because we carry one another’s hearts in our own.
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace . . . for God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. – Philippians 1:3-8
Written by Jessica Kim, Art by Christine Hwang