The Joys of Obligation
Years ago I was acquainted with a girl who told me that she didn’t want friends. I don’t want to be obligated to people, she said, with a little laugh.
I know she was half joking. Yet, many of us in the church seem to be living our lives the same way. As if we don’t want to be bound to help each other out. To call each other out. We don’t seem to want to be connected to each other. We want to see one another on Sunday mornings, exchange pleasantries, and head on our way, without getting too mixed up in someone else’s issues. The truth is that many of us behave as if the Christian life is all about our private relationship with God, and has nothing to do with our relationships with other people.
Over and over again, though, the Bible admonishes us that the Christian life isn’t just an individual pursuit. We are meant to travel this road together, helping each other along, encouraging each other, not being afraid to get involved in each other’s struggles.
I’ve learned a lot about this by watching a friend of mine. I often tease her, calling her “the fixer.” She can’t bear to see someone struggling. If she can tell that someone might need help, whether a prayer or a babysitter or a hot meal or a listening ear, she jumps in and makes offers of help. And, more often than not, people take her up on her offer. She obligates herself to a great many people. But, the more I have watched her live out this pattern of not being afraid to share in the struggles of others, the more I have come to realize that she isn’t trying to fix things. She is simply trying to be a friend. And, she is really, really good at it. And, then it hit me: a huge part of living the Christian life is just doing the things that friends do.
You see, it is actually our privilege and joy to be obligated to one another. We are designed to share this life with other Christians, and when we open ourselves up to true relationship with each other, we find blessing after blessing. Jesus built the church for our good and for the good of this lost world. When we just come to church on Sundays and pretend like we’re all in this together while we avoid becoming obligated to each other, we are not being good stewards of what He gave to us.
We have to be aware of what is happening around us, giving up our self-centered tendencies.
We have to be open to inviting others into our own struggles, giving up our pride.
We have to live in a mode of expectation, looking for ways that God can use us among His people.
These are not easy things to do. Not if you’re a young mother buried in the wilds of child-rearing, and not if you’re a grandmother exploring the empty nest. No phase of life is the perfect one for making real connections with people. But, these connections are essential to our growth and the church’s health. In short, we need each other.
Don’t be afraid to be obligated to one another. Embrace the sometimes complicated, sometimes time consuming, sometimes heart-wrenching job of sharing life with your fellow Christians. I guarantee that the joys of obligation will far outweigh the heartaches.
Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.
1 Peter 3:8