Sherry Turkle is a professor at M.I.T. and author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. She’s spent the last 15 years studying how technology has changed who we are. She says we’re always communicating but seldom having real conversations. “We are tempted to think that our little "sips" of online connection add up to a big gulp of real conversation. But they don't. E-mail, Twitter, Facebook, all of these have their places …. But no matter how valuable, they do not substitute for conversation…connecting in sips doesn't work as well when it comes to understanding and knowing one another…our new devices have turned being alone into a problem that can be solved. When people are alone, even for a few moments, they fidget and reach for a device …. Our constant, reflexive impulse to connect shapes a new way of being. Think of it as "I share, therefore I am."
Nobody wants to feel alone. But tons of people do. Robert Putnam is a professor at Harvard University. Putnam tracked the lives of 7,000 people over 9 years. The focus of the study was relationships. The study found that the most isolated people were 3x more likely to die than those with strong relational connections. People who had bad health habits (like smoking and overeating) but strong social ties lived significantly longer than people who had great health habits but were isolated. In other words, as John Ortberg points out, “It’s better to eat Twinkies with good friends than to eat broccoli alone.”
But how do we find closer relationships? I want to answer that question by zeroing in on a relationship you might not have thought about—the Trinity. The Trinity is a beautiful model of what community is all about.
There’s only one God, but God is expressed in three persons we call the Trinity. We think of relationship beginning when God created man. But the reality is, relationship began before the beginning of time. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have been involved in a perfect relationship of love for all eternity. Community didn’t begin with us: it began in eternity with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. C.S. Lewis said, “If God was a single person, then before the world was made, he was not love." P.H.Reardon wrote, "The relationship that exists within the Godhead is the basis for unity in every human relationship, be it marriage, family or the church"
The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have been committed to this relationship of self-giving love for all eternity. The persons of the Trinity have always deferred to each other and concentrated on each other. Frederick Bruner wrote a great essay on the Trinity. He talks about what he calls the shyness of the Spirit. It’s not the shyness of timidity. It’s the shyness of deference. Of concentrated attention on others. In other words, the Holy Spirit surrenders the spotlight to the Father and Son.
The bible says that Jesus focuses the attention on the Father instead of himself. Jesus says in John 14:13, “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” Jesus yields the spotlight to the Father. And the Father is eager to point to the Son. Jesus is baptized at the beginning of his public ministry. The Father speaks from heaven. And he says, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him,” Matthew 3:17. The Spirit glorifies the Son and bears witness to the Son. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are always honoring each other! They’re always pointing to the other members of the circle.
Several years ago the great opera singers Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo, and Luciano Pavarotti performed together in Los Angeles. A reporter tried to press the issue of competition between the three men. But Domingo said, “You have to put all of your concentration into opening your heart to the music. You can’t be rivals when you’re together making music.” Neil Platinga wrote, “At the center of the universe, self-giving love is the dynamic currency of the Trinitarian life of God. The persons within God exalt each other, commune with each other, defer to one another. Each person, so to speak, makes room for the other two.” The members of the Trinity never compete for center stage.
The Trinity is a model for our relationships. You see this particularly in Jesus’ prayer for believers in John 17. Jesus prays for the unity of believers. Out of his prayer grows this vital truth: Connection with other believers is crucial because it is the answer to Jesus’ prayer for unity.
John 17:20-21a, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” This is the last prayer of Jesus before he goes to the cross. And what does he pray? That believers would be one! And not just one, not just united. But one as Jesus and the Father are one! As the Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father! This means that we have to assign priority to the value of relationship! The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are fiercely committed to the relationship they have with each other. That’s why the cross was so painful for Christ. Jesus had never known anything but perfect relationship with His Father—but at the cross He felt the fury of His Father against our sin! The Father, Son, and Spirit cherish their relationship.
But sometimes we’re halfhearted about relationship. We say we want closer friendships, but the truth is, we want something else more. How important is relationship to you, really? What does your schedule say about the value you attach to relationships? How much do you really want to be connected? Jesus poured his life into 12 men who were his closest friends on earth. He was even closer to his inner circle of friends: Peter, James, and John. Jesus prayed that we would be one—just as He and the Father are one!
Deep relationships don’t happen by accident. You have to be proactive and intentional about it. If you want relationships, you have to commit chunks of unhurried time. Do you realize the average American spends 6x more time watching tv than in building relationships? There are things we seem to want more than friendship. Maybe we value our homes more than friendship. Our jobs, our privacy, our success more than relationship. If you want meaningful relationships in your life, they have to be more important than your work or your recreation.
You know the big-time challenges you have in your life. Maybe you have a child with a learning disability; or you don’t know how you’ll make you next house payment. Or you’re suffering from an addiction that’s about to take you down; Or you just feel a consuming sense of loneliness. This is why we always urge you to be involved in a Connection Group. A group where you can find friendship and love and acceptance. A group where you can ask people to pray for your marriage; or ask other parents how to handle a problem your child might be facing. You need friends! You need emotional and spiritual support. You need someone you can call at 2:00 in the morning to talk you off the ledge.
The Father, Son, and Spirit are constantly looking for ways to serve each other and defer to each other and honor each other. So every time you give to someone in need, you’re imitating the Trinity. Every time you encourage someone who is down. Every time you give up your rights, or visit someone in the hospital, or show your love for someone else, you’re tuned into the self-giving nature of God.
Connecting to others is an answer to Jesus’ prayer for unity! Each person of the Trinity makes room for the other two. And when we come together as Christians, we’re called to bring the same attitude of unselfishness shown in the Trinity. We’re called to honor each other and defer to each other and surrender to each other. Every time we choose to live selflessly, we’re honoring the Trinity.
Some people give up on groups because they find out that other people aren’t perfect. Carmen Berry wrote a book called The Unauthorized Guide to Choosing a Church. She had stopped going to church for years, because she was disappointed with other people in the church who failed to act like Christians. They let her down. They messed up. But then she found that the very thing that drove her away from the church, was what drew her back. She said: “I had overlooked one essential factor—that I am as finite and flawed as everyone else.” She finally realized that community is being patient with other less-than-perfect human beings. Henri Nouwen said, “Community is the place where the person you least want to live with always lives.”
Think about all the one another texts in the bible. Encourage one another, teach one another, serve one another, care for one another, admonish one another, pray for one another, and the list goes on. Who is doing these things for you? If you don’t have close connections with other believers, you can’t experience the ‘one anothers.’ Who is teaching you? Who is praying for you? Who is encouraging you? Who is admonishing you? Who do you show your weaknesses to? Who do you ask to pray for you? Who do you let see your brokenness? Community is not optional. God designed the church as a community for knowing Him and knowing each other. For growing in our relationship with Him and our relationships with each other. Connection with other believers is an answer to Jesus’ prayer.