We are coming up on the 15th anniversary of 9/11. Stories abound of people, trapped in the twin towers, knowing they were about to die, calling friends and family. There is no story about an employee calling his/her boss to say the work would not get done today, or financial adviser to check on how such a tragedy would impact their portfolio. They called their spouses, sons and daughters, and best friends just to say three little words: “I love you.” Relationships, it turns out in the end, are worth the effort.
When my family and I lived in West Michigan, we spent a lot of time every August at Lake Michigan enjoying the wonderful sandy beaches. One summer was unusually hot, and, as a result, thousands of fish died in the lake. On a Saturday we went to the beach. It was very windy and hot. Most Saturdays would find hundreds of people on the beach. But on this day, not so many people were around. There were dozens of dead fish getting washed up on the beach, and it smelled the part. On top of it, there was a wind warning where no one was to get in the lake.
As we settled on the beach and the girls went about playing, I sat and was reading a book. There were two boys playing together. They were having all kinds of fun running around with sticks poking out the eyes of the dead fish. They also were working on a big sand castle. They were nearly finished with it when a large wave from the lake came in and destroyed hours of work. I was thinking to myself that these boys were going to really be disappointed and upset. Instead, they both had big belly laughs over it. Then, they just started building it again as if nothing had happened.
As I thought about the scene of watching the two boys, I realized a life lesson which the book of Ecclesiastes teaches us: Sooner or later something comes along and knocks down what we work so hard to build in life. Initially, it all seems meaningless. But if we have built it together, we will be able to laugh and rebuild it together.
Healthy relationships are always at the heart of a well-lived life. The Bible is a story about relationships, and is filled with instruction about them. The Great Commandment of Jesus – to love God and love neighbor – is about relationships. The Ten Commandments are given to us in order to govern how to rightly relate to God and others. The fruit of the Spirit in the New Testament is relational fruit. Paul’s letters to the churches all deal in how to handle relational problems amongst others. The narratives of Scripture communicate to us the consequences, both good and bad, of relationships.
The author of Ecclesiastes spent his entire life seeking happiness, purpose, and meaning in life. He affirms that enjoying relationships with others is a major key in possessing contentment in life. The author tells us that working our tails off with no meaningful relationships, and/or sacrificing our relationships at the altar of work is meaningless. There is no end to work and there is always another job to do. Constant work with no significant relationships is vain, meaningless, and misguided.
If anybody could have been an independent lone ranger it was Jesus. But Jesus made relationships a priority. He nurtured individual relationships with a number of people, including his dear friends Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. Jesus also nurtured group relationships. He appointed twelve disciples to be with him. They did everything together – worked, prayed, laughed, cried, and fought together. Even Jesus looked to his close friends in his greatest hour of need in facing the crucifixion. Jesus was not self-sufficient, so our trying to live this way is completely against the grain of how God created us.
Maintaining good relationships with fellow church members can be hard work. Prioritizing relationships takes lots of energy. When we get to the end of our lives, it is not going to matter how much stuff we have or how far up the ladder we climbed in our vocations. What will matter is how well we loved all the people in our lives.