Recently, while hanging out with friends, one friend was telling us all about the relationship she shares with her new significant other. We all smiled and shared her happiness as she spoke of their synergy and like-mindedness, of the ways they are different yet complimentary and the ways they annoy each other “in a good way”. Of course, all this language points to new love and who can resist that? As if in summative proof of the security of this relationship she said, “although we’ve only been seeing each other a few months, we’re already finishing each other’s sentences.” Of course, ever the dutiful girlfriends, we all smiled, nodded, and joyfully jumped on her happiness train. True romantics, we all wanted to believe in the “happily ever after” potential of this burgeoning relationship. Of course, only time will tell, but something in my spirit was already starting to shift. The language of “finishing each other’s sentences” was starting to chafe.
Full disclosure, I’ve been married for 27 years and still haven’t mastered this ability so maybe my views are just “old love” cynicism but hear me out please. While “finishing each other’s sentences” is colloquially used to positively describe those so in sync and well matched that they can discern each other’s thoughts, intuit unexpressed feelings, and draw shared meaning from the same collective memories and experiences; I can’t help thinking of its negative connotations as well. I wonder about the assumptions we make about our partners feelings and unique perspective, how we might be inclined to listen less closely if at all, how we conflate our interpretation of things with that of our partner, how our arrogance might cause us to ask fewer probing questions and how the act of finishing each other sentences might become the transactional currency that replaces connection all together.
While this dynamic can have unwanted and even calamitous results between two people in a romantic relationship, I wonder just how much more insidious and disastrous this dynamic is in congregational life. You know when we assume because we can “finish each other’s sentences”
- When we say, “How are you?” and know the answer will be “Blessed and highly favored” or
- When we say, “The peace of God be with you” knowing the response will be, “and with you” or
- When we say, “God is good” and know the reply will be “all the time” or
- When we say, “Our Father who art in heaven” and just know that “Hallowed be thy name” will follow.
When we say these things, they come with the assumption that we share the same theology, political views, socio economic realities or concerns, the same worldview, emotional and mental responses, and reaction or are more connected and in sync than we really are.
- How many times do we assume that because someone identifies as Christian that we are in fact the same?
- How many times do we assume that because we attend the same church, we all have had the same experiences of belonging and inclusion within that church?
- How many times do we privilege the few similarities we share, while we discount or ignore the vast world of differences our similarities swim in?
- How many times do we confuse connection with compliance to established norms?
- How many times to we use our shared communication processes with common expressions of belonging and togetherness?
- How many times do we assume that our ability to “finish each other’s sentences” means that we all feel seen, heard and felt?
- How many times do we assume that “good worship services” mean we have connected deeply and meaningfully with the transcendent Divine?
When we think about the true value and purpose of connection it is more than just a way for us to relate to one another, but it is a way for us to belong fully to God, ourselves and to each other. Brené Brown writes:
“True belonging is a spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”
How often do we as Christians and as congregations provide safe space and sacred time for this type of belonging? How often do we focus so intently on “finishing each other’s sentences” that we neglect connection and belonging all together?
Just like my friend and her new beau “finishing each other’s sentences” isn’t a guarantee that their love or relationship is healthy or that it will have longevity, we must also accept that our common practices of faith within our congregations and the common ways we talk to and about God hold no guarantees of communal longevity or growth, rather it is our ability to truly belong first to God, then ourselves and each other that holds the key to true connection.
“How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” Psalm 133:1