Another contribution up ion the Slant 33 site, along with Tony Myles and Lara Larsen answering the question: How do you navigate one-on-one relationship contexts (in order to protect yourself and others)? Here’s my take:
The late Leo Buscaglia, a motivational speaker, once described a loving relationship as “one in which the loved one is free to be himself—to laugh with me but never at me; to cry with me but never because of me; to love life, to love himself, to love being loved. Such a relationship is based upon freedom and can never grow in a jealous heart.”
The challenge for us in youth ministry is to be able to follow the example of our God, with whom we find ourselves in relationship. We must always place great worth on freedom in our one-on-one relationships.
And that ain’t easy.
Relationships almost always start with an understanding of the other’s role. We do it with kids all the time. That kid is a freshman. Wow, the head cheerleader just showed up. Hey, the home-school kid just walked in.
It is true for us as well. I once had a supervisor who told me he was aware that every time he spoke publicly people viewed him with an image of his boss over his shoulder. I quickly became aware that in my role, folks often viewed me with ghostly apparitions of my boss and his boss and my predecessor. So it’s true for adults as well. You are the youth pastor, you are the sports coach, you are Pedro’s father…and in some cases, all three!
Within one-on-one relationships, we must find a careful balance to move beyond all that. We need to move with each other past the role challenges in search of the freedom in “which the loved one is free to be himself.” And we must be able to find that for ourselves, all the while recognizing that we have cultural, legal, and moral responsibilities connected to our role as one who ministers on behalf of the church.
Andrew Root would suggest that what young people seek is not the specialized someone. Their world is surrounded by professionals—teachers, coaches, advisors, etc. They need human beings, those who are willing to share the laughing, the crying, and the living for all it is worth.
St. Teresa of Avila would remind us that Christ has no body but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Andrew Root would suggest that we move our relationships beyond the influence of our roles and into the incarnation of our beings.
It is certainly a privilege to be in relationship with others along their spiritual journeys. It is awesome to share in the moment of discernment, to experience the personal high of another, to be allowed to share in the effort to overcome various challenges of pain and struggles. But it is likewise a risk for us to overstate our own role and influence in these moments of another.
In my early formative years of helping coordinate Catholic high school dances, there was always a running joke about slow dances that should be considered when a minister engages in the intimate entanglement of relationships: Always leave room for the Holy Spirit. It is because of the Holy Spirit that we can remain humble when others succeed around us because that was God’s work. It is because of the Holy Spirit that we can remain optimistic when others fall or fail around us because all will work out in God’s time. It is because of the Holy Spirit that we recognize that it all does not depend on us, and we are called to remain on our knees and invoke the Spirit’s work within our relationships because ours are the hands, ours are the feet, ours are the eyes, and ours are the bodies that can bring Christ’s presence into the world as well as our relationships.