Spiritual Journey Press
How Close Are We to Each Other?


Language may provide a powerful testimony to spiritual reality. 

Alexandra Fuller (Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, published by Penguin Books) is an accomplished author who was raised in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia).  In an article published in Harper’s Magazine (January 2012, pp. 60-64), she recounts a common conversation she heard in the Shona language:


“Maswera sei?”  (“How did you pass the day?”)

“Taswera kana maswerawo.”  (“I passed the day well if you passed the day well.”)

“Taswera hedu.”  (“I passed the day well, indeed.”)


Fuller draws this conclusion from the conversation: “The well-being of an individual depends on the well-being of others – I’m okay if you’re okay.”


The journeys of our lives are intertwined with the journeys of others in many intricate ways.  We would not exist without past generations of people who loved one another enough to share their lives together; genealogy affirms the primacy of relational ties in human experience.  Our accomplishments, as Malcolm Gladwell asserts in Outliers, find their antecedents in the activities and influence of others.  And long before Gladwell, Albert Einstein wrote in 1931:


“How strange is the lot of us mortals! Each of us is here for a brief sojourn; for what purpose he knows not, though he sometimes thinks he senses it. But without deeper reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people – first of all for those upon whose smiles and well-being our own happiness is wholly dependent, and then for the many, unknown to us, to whose destinies we are bound by the ties of sympathy.  A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life are based on the labors of other men, living and dead, and I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving.” [From The World as I See It (1931), in Ideas and Opinions (New York: Random House, 1954), page 8]


Our inter-dependence is psychological as well as biological, generational, intellectual and vocational.  Even though I am introverted, I must admit that my sense of self-esteem and happiness is bound up in the loving affirmation I receive from close friends and colleagues.  It is as if my subjective sense of well-being needs confirmation from outside sources, and rightly so.  Subjective reflection may be sincere and authentic, and still be inaccurate and misleading.  Listening to others provides perspective, balance and wisdom. 

Our spiritual growth is clearly dependent on our interactions with others.  If we do not embrace and cultivate a deepening relationship with God, our spiritual thoughts devolve into mere sentimentality and wishful thinking.   If we ignore the presence of other people, our spirituality becomes corrupted by our own pride and self-esteem; we begin to act as if we are the center of the world.  The existence of other people who are equally loved by God is a necessary reminder that our thoughts, feeling, needs, wants, desires, dreams, hopes and fears do not constitute all that there is, and thus should not claim our heart’s ultimate allegiance.  We exist to serve, and not to be served.


Our mission journeys, in which we serve and share in the name of Christ, will not achieve their maximum impact without the companionship of others who are also called to be light and salt in the world.  My potential in Christ will only be realized if others accompany me along the way.  I need others to prod me, hold me accountable, encourage me and provide insights and knowledge that I may be missing (or have forgotten). 

Readers of the New Testament no doubt will hear its themes echoed in the above reflection.  Jesus proclaimed the interconnected nature of the covenant he desires with us in John 15: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (v. 5) - and “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (v. 12).  Later, Paul used the images of body (I Corinthians 12) and building (Ephesians 2) to describe our mutual dependence on one another.  And the writer to the Hebrews exhorted, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25).


But let’s not get too carried away by this dependency talk!  It needs to be balanced by a strong sense of self in order to avoid becoming toxic to our faith.  Co-dependency is not healthy at all!  Jesus could humbly ask his close friends to accompany him to Gethsemane (Matthew 26:37-37), but he did not base his faithfulness on the opinions of others – especially those who misunderstood or sought to deny the Messianic theme of his journey:  


“Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name.  But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men.  He did not need man's testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man” (John 2:23-25)


 Similarly, Joshua exhibits this same sense of individual strength and faithfulness coupled with a desire to link his journey to others:


“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.  But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”  (Joshua 24:14-15)


Paul provides a wonderful example of this paradoxical dynamic as he affirms the Philippians’ concern for his welfare:


“Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.  I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.  I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength.  Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.”  (Philippians 4:9-14)


Paul has it just right!  People committed to one another in a positive, spiritually healthy manner, learn from one another’s wisdom and experiences.   We care for one another’s needs out of a sense of mutual lovingkindness.  Paul can stand on his own, but it is more fun and fulfilling to meet the challenges of his journey with the support of his good friends.  He’s okay (content) and they are okay (concerned), and their linked journeys can express the joy of the Lord as a result.  

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