Guest post by Julia Benson
The Power of RELATIONSHIP
I received this quote, etched into Jerusalem stone, from a friend with whom I share the gift of knowing and being known despite the divergence of some of our deepest held beliefs. I hung these words underneath the crucifix that hangs beside my door as reminder for me as I walk out into the world every morning.
This quote speaks to me about the power of relationship. Both my relationship with Christ, into whose image I seek to be transformed, and also my relationships with all those that I have and will come into contact with as I journey through life. Whatever my sphere of influence, I have found that I only have the authority to speak the truth of my heart into the lives of those I meet to the degree that I am in relationship with them.
Whether it is with my students, colleagues, acquaintances, friends, or even my family members, the level of trust that has been built into our relationship determines the degree to which I can share honestly and am also able to listen clearly to the perspective of another. When I truly desire the good of another (instead of what I think will be good for them) by seeking to know and understand where they are coming from, a bridge of understanding is built between us, which allows the truth present in both of our realities to grow. As I am reminded often in my classroom, “They (my students) don’t care what you know until they know you care!”
This dynamic is also evident in the spiritual life. It is only as I have slowly grown deeper in the knowledge of how much I am truly loved by the God of the Universe, a knowledge cultivated by our deepening relationship in prayer, that I have slowly become open to the words that He has been trying to speak into my heart. Transformation does not happen overnight. Sometimes a relationship needs to be cultivated over many, many years.
This patient witness to the transformative power of relationship is most evident to me at the heart of a ministry that I have known and supported for many years. Emmaus Ministries (www.streets.org) is an outreach to a group of those most neglected on the streets today, men involved in prostitution.
Relationship is at the heart of the ministry of Emmaus. Relationships between the staff and volunteers who are comprised of Roman Catholic and Evangelical Christians working together (despite theological differences) to respond to the Gospel call which they all hear, “To Make Jesus Known on the Streets.” And relationships built with the guys who find a refuge from the streets in the coffee and conversation offered by those who walk the streets with them nightly. This constant presence, often over years, provides the space in which trust can grow.
These relationships are not easy. The human instinct in our brokenness is to run and hide so that we are never seen for who we really are. Many of the men with whom Emmaus has walked have broken off the relationship or have been lost to the violence of the streets or their own addictions. However, for other men, it was the vulnerability of being truly known, that allowed the power of transformative change into their lives.
This is the power of the witness of Emmaus. Today there are men like Brian, who after 15 years is sober and free of addiction, recently married, and about to be released from parole. His relationship with Emmaus began in 1993 when at 17 he met some Outreach Ministers on the streets. It continued when these same individuals showed up at the hospital after he was shot twice in the head in a gang related incident. These actions spoke a powerful message to him that his life had value and meaning and the relationship that was formed and nurtured over the following 15 years continues today.
In a world that is becoming increasingly polarized it can be easy to overlook the value of relationship as we seek to know and be known and to share our deepest held beliefs. The reality is that we do not have the ability to speak truth into the life of another. We do have the ability to build and strengthen the relationships that we are engaged in. Who are you in currently in relationship with and where might God be calling you to lay a deeper foundation?
Julia Benson writes from Chicago and can be described by the following adjectives: Roman Catholic, science teacher, knitter, amateur musician, and lover of coffee & good books. However, she would most like to be known for the relationships that she is developing as a daughter, sister, teacher, aunt, godmother, & friend.