A Healthy Distance

There are few books that I’ve returned to over and over again to help interpret life more than Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Life Together.” Bonhoeffer the man was fascinating enough even without his profound insights into the Christian life: a resistant German theologian and pastor during the time of the Nazis, a spy, and a participator in a plot to assassinate Hitler are just a few interesting aspects of his resumĂ©. But layer on top of that the eloquence and depth of his writings, and you have a man I would really love to spend many hours with over beer.
But anyway, one quote that always sticks with me is the one he made about where Jesus fits in our relationships with one another. The book itself is probably sadly exiled to some moving box right now, so I can’t bring up the exact quote, but he said something like this: Jesus needs to stand between myself and every other person. Jesus didn’t just come to be a mediator between us and God – the link that binds us to Him. Jesus came to be the link between us and everyone else. In other words, as the nun said to the boy and girl dancing too close to each other during prom night, “Leave room for the Holy Spirit.” And the best way for me to describe what the means is to describe an incident in my own life.
I was sitting across the table from my older sister. The last few months she and her husband have been helping (in a major, major way) with our three children while my wife has been sorting through issues and I’ve been trying to keep up with a full-time job. Essentially, their home is my children’s home for now. This was a “family meeting,” meaning it was our opportunity to air out our issues with each other (anything we felt we had to say that couldn’t be said in a 5-minute conversation) or just check in and make sure we were all doing ok.
The issues my sister brought up were completely legitimate. What she said went something like this, “Maybe you could help out a little more around the house when you have the opportunity. Even small stuff is helpful…. How should we deal with this particular issue with Jack?….. Have you contacted that guy about getting the car out of the driveway?”
What I heard was, “I’m sick and tired of picking up after my stupid, incompetent, irresponsible little brother – even now! You don’t know what you are doing as a parent and are a failure at life. And you’re Catholic!”
How? How could she say one thing and I hear something completely different? It’s because I have this recording in my head that constantly plays back for me my life growing up. I was always the little brother. I was always the one who had to be taken care of. I was the irresponsible one who kept forgetting things. I left our Protestant faith to become Catholic, and this was hard for my family to accept – for legitimate reasons. My sister is the kindest person you will ever meet in your life. But I realized something: I was far, far too close to her. My life was emotionally tied up with hers in a way I couldn’t untangle. If she thought I was doing well, it was as though God was shedding His approval over my entire life. If she disapproved, it was as though nothing good I did mattered. I was a screw-up.
What would I have to do to see my sister in a healthy way? What do I have to do to not rise or fall based on her opinion, or my wife’s opinion, or my student’s opinions, or anyone else’s – including my own? I need to leave room for the Holy Spirit. Letting Christ stand between me and another person is like putting on a pair of glasses that take your eyesight from being a gigantic blur – like a Turner painting – to 20/20 vision. I see people the way Jesus sees people. They are not pure good or evil. Their opinions of you are not to be completely disregarded as rubbish but neither are they to be elevated to the status of the Ten Commandments. They are people doing the best they can – just like you. They want to be loved like you do. They want community like you do. And you are called to love them.
My situation could be multiplied by however many instances involving how ever many people exist in the world. We crave favor. We long so badly for validation. We need to know we are doing ok. We need more “likes” on our Facebook statuses. We need our nicer cars and nicer houses. We need that promotion. We need to be needed, because we need some cosmic “A+” (or at least a passing grade) to loom over our lives and let us know we mean something good in the world…. that we aren’t just a waste of space.
Into that seeming abyss steps Christ. And He fills that dark hole with blinding light. God’s favor rests on You because He loves You because of what Christ did on the Cross. You have all You need in Him. You have all you could want in Him. And now, you can love and cherish others because you know that in Him you are loved and cherished.
Between us and the world needs to stand Christ. If He isn’t there, something or someone else will take His place. God help the person who lets that happen. And God help the one to whom that person latches onto.

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