I’m a solo act. That hasn’t always been the case. I was married for a good long while, and it worked for me right up until the time when it didn’t. But since my marriage ended and my nest became empty right about the same time, I’ve been going it alone. There are times when I relish the freedom of not having to check in with anybody, or make compromises, or feel a need to explain my actions to someone who might be impacted by them. And there are other times when I find myself in a dark hole where I wonder how many days I could be dead before another living soul would notice. I don’t know if I’m better off single. But I do know that I need positive relationships in my life. And because I don’t have an automatic relationship to come home to every night, I have to work at my relationships with friends and relatives. I’m not always successful; sometimes a relationship has been the source of great pain in my life, but it's worth the effort.
Scientists have discovered that healthy relationships lead to healthy lives. Of course, that’s something that many of us may have suspected anyway, but now there is research to back it up. Dr. Dean Ornish writes about this in his book, Love and Survival: the Scientific Basis for the Healing Power of Intimacy. He says: “Love and intimacy are the root of what makes us sick and what makes us well, what causes sadness and what brings happiness, what makes us suffer and what leads to healing.” He presents overwhelming evidence for the correlation between relationships and health, including the fact that people who feel lonely and isolated have a 300-500 percent greater risk of premature death and physical illness. His overall conclusion is that “anything that promotes a sense of isolation often leads to illness and suffering. Anything that promotes a sense of love and intimacy, connection and community, is healing.”
We really don’t need a scientist to tell us that we need one another. Positive relationships in our lives aren’t just good for our physical health; they are good for our mental, emotional and spiritual health as well. Our relationships with other people are a gift God has given us so that we can have the abundant life he wants for us.
In the movie Shall We Dance? there’s a speech made by the character Susan Sarandon plays that moved me to tears. She had been married for a long time to the same man and she was questioned about it. What’s the point? Why be married? Here’s how she responded:
“We need a witness to our lives. There’s a billion people on the planet… I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things… all of it, all of the time, every day. You’re saying, ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness.’”
This struck me to the core because it was another way of saying something that is essentially true for us as human beings. If we live out our years devoid of close relationships with other human beings, without someone to share our lives, it’s almost as if they haven’t really been lived at all. It’s like the proverbial tree falling in the forest with no one there to hear it.
I’m sounding a little like the old Dean Martin song, aren’t I? “You’re nobody till somebody loves you.” Of course, we don’t have to worry about that because, as children of God, we know beyond a doubt that somebody does love us. But God puts flesh and blood people into our lives to be vehicles of his grace. That’s the blessing that any close loving relationship can bring us. And that’s why our relationships deserve the best that we have to offer.
“No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:12). At their best, our relationships connect us with the love of God. A line from the musical, Les Miserables, expresses this deep truth quite simply: “To love another person is to see the face of God.”
Yes, relationships are worth the effort.