Recently I learned that someone I know co-authored a book called, Real Connections: Ministries to Strengthen Church and Community Relationships (written by Joy Skjegstad and Heidi Unruh). I decided I needed to pick up a copy not only because I like supporting the creative work of people I know, but also because the topic felt like such a timely one.
The later chapters of the book contain many great practical ideas and tips for both making and deepening relationships of all types, but it was something in the opening chapter that has really stuck with me. Before the authors get into the practical section, they open by exploring the very nature of relationships and attempting to give a framework for thinking about the many different ways that people connect with one another. It is this framework that stuck with me.
Skjegstad and Unruh suggest that connections can be thought of along a continuum that moves between levels of openness and intimacy. The stages of relationships they recognize along that continuum include:
Coffee House: These are the connections we make to begin getting to know someone, usually in a public space and with some mutual sharing but little intimacy.
Living Room: These connections begin to take steps toward deeper intimacy and more personal sharing, and they often involve enough trust to invite someone into your home or other personal space.
Laundry Room: These connections begin to move from the typically tidy living room toward the perpetually messy laundry room. Here we begin to allow others to see us not just as we want to be seen but as we truly are, which requires even more risk and vulnerability and, ideally, more mutuality.
Emergency Room: These deepest levels of connection are the people who make up our support systems, those who show up when we need them the most, not just for the lows but also to help celebrate life’s highs.
It’s a simple framework, but one that has been helpful to me as a tool to take stock of the relationships in my life. Admittedly, relationships don’t fall so easily into categories and hardly ever remain static, yet I find this helpful to me to think about how and where to invest my social and emotional energy. Not every connection needs to become a friendship, and not every friendship needs to become a chosen family. There is nothing wrong with keeping connections at a Coffee House level, but if we are to thrive, all of us need at least some relationships at the more intimate end of the continuum (regardless of what labels we put on those relationships).
Creating, maintaining, and sustaining relationships is hard work, yet it is also the most important work we can do. And my prayer is that CMC can be a place where we can all help one another do that good work.