There are only so many people you can go deep with. A couple of months ago, I wrote a post about how community requires a circle of friends – as opposed to linear friends. The basic concept is, you can’t have community when you’re splitting your time between numerous people that don’t also have relationships with each other.
A major side effect of the linear relationship structure is that you end up fragmenting your time so much, you don’t end up going deep with anyone. The best you can do is maintain all of your friendships at surface levels, because when you don’t see people multiple times a week, the time you spend together usually consists of catching up with each other’s lives.
Take your cue from the four spaces
A book I recently read called The Search to Belong breaks this concept down even more for us. Learning from the science of proxemics (the study of the use of space), the author explains how there are four major spaces that humans move each other in and out of in their relationships. They are public, social, personal and intimate.
Without breaking this down too much in this particular post, you might easily understand that the public space fits in the most people and the numbers naturally shrink as you move down to intimate; where only a few might fit it. Also, the time investment required to maintain relationships in the spaces increases while moving in that direction as well.
Why we’re stuck in a one space experience
Practically, when you do the math for most of our lives, it doesn’t add up to a healthy distribution. Typically, our busy-ness plus our linear relationships equates to a bunch of social space relationships that just get maintained. There’s simply no time remaining to move to the deeper spaces with people.
Then, you add in another factor. We’ve entered a “constantly connected” world where everyone is expected to and feels like they have to be available at almost all times. I have observed the surprise on people’s faces when I don’t answer my phone or respond to a text message right away. I have also observed moments when people feel a desperate need and an almost programmed response to answer their phone or text messages right away. Ever see people answer their phones in the most inappropriate public situations? I’ve even seen phones answered in church services in the middle of sermons while the preacher is speaking!!! So now we’re busy AND interrupted.
And here’s another one – social networks. People are now virtual “friends” with waaaay more people than science has proven anyone can even maintain relationships with. In fact, there have been studies that have suggested that the most people anyone could have in the social space of their lives is around 150, let alone having people in the deeper spaces. The human brain just isn’t capable of keeping up with more than that.
So, if you’re spending time keeping up on the lives of a couple hundred Facebook friends, you’re essentially stealing time from the possibility of having deeper relationships with anyone.
Decide to change your format
The only (and hard) way to combat this unhealthy structure to our lives is to make tough decisions about who you are investing your time in relationship with. If your hope is to answer the call of kingdom community church life that God has for every person, you’re going to have to enter into a different format for your relationships.
It will have to take on the following characteristics:
- It will have to be circular – those you have relationships with also have to have relationships with each other.
- It will have to be limited – only a certain number of people can fit into our deeper spaces. As the number of your relationships goes up, the ratio of the spaces gets skewed until there are no people left in personal and intimate space.
- They will have to be your neighbor – You can’t love your neighbor if they’re not your neighbor :). And Jesus took it a step further. You can’t love others like He loved the disciples if you only see them once in a while.
Now it’s your turn. Can you relate to having one big social space and almost non-existent personal and intimate spaces? Have you ever taken steps to change things? What happened?