I read a book this last semester called The Relational Way: From small group structures to holistic life connections (by M. Scott Boren) for a one week class I had in January. The author talks about how there are four spaces or distances that determine how a person relates to others.

1.) The Public Space of Belonging
2.) The Social Space of Belonging
3.) The Personal Space of Belonging
4.) The Intimate Space of Belonging

Before I talk about these spaces, let me preface it by reminding you that Presbyterians… or maybe just the people around here, are really good at talking about their sin

There is pressure here for everyone to be in my intimate space of belonging. So much of it could be due to the season of life seminary is, but I am not really comfortable with that. As I realized this intimate space of belonging wasn’t what was actually bothering me, I started to look at relationships differently.

To define the different spaces…

The public space of belonging is about connecting with a broad movement. (Perhaps something like a Lion’s Club at the national level would be an example of this). This type of belonging does not require much participation, simply association with the movement. You may attend a meeting or two, but you do not invest time or money.

The social space of belonging is the next step, by connecting with groups of 70-120 people, called “neighbor relationships”. You share small talk and may be willing to do small favors for this group.

The personal space of belonging is defined by groups of 10 or 12. Such groups become close friends, share each others’ lives with one another, and they invest personal time and energy to see that the group succeeds.

The intimate space of belonging is the final level. To have two or three people in the space is normal, as it is where you “share ‘naked’ experience, feelings, and thoughts.” (pg 179).

We like to think we have intimacy with a person when we really don’t. We want to know about the person, their likes and dislikes, what’s going on in their life. We want to know their views on political and theological issues and we maybe even want to know how they are doing from day to day. But is this real intimacy? I don’t think so.

Real intimacy comes when your heart is laid bare, with all your glorious ruins out there for someone to see. Then beyond that they help you through what may be a great hurt in your life. They see you cry and scream and hate everyone, and are still there to walk alongside you when it’s over. This is what the author calls “refrigerator rights” – the people who can come into your home, go to the fridge and help themselves without asking or worrying you’ll be offended. The kind of people who you are willing to let see you without makeup and with your home a mess…

I recently deactivated my facebook account, for a period of about seven weeks (in the middle I came back for a few days, but then deactivated it again). I chose to do this because I was feeling some hard hits on my self-esteem as the community of people around the seminary were consistently talking about how great some of their get-togethers were, get-togethers to which I wasn’t invited. (That’s just one example… there were other things that bothered me, but they aren’t important now) I decided it wasn’t worth my self-esteem and gave facebook up. But this weekend I reactivated my account, and deleted nearly everyone of my seminary “friends”. (It came to around 60 or so people. Crazy.) Part of it was because of my self-esteem, but tonight I realized a much bigger reason why.

Real relationships with people, especially people who are close to me geographically is becoming more and important to me. Facebook is great for keeping in touch with loved ones far away, but I think we can use it as a replacement friendship with people we are around every day. Instead of calling or visiting someone to find out how their week was, I would just check their facebook page. This made me feel like I had real friendships with people who in all honestly I was merely acquaintances with.

I don’t want to have relationships like that. I don’t was a social space of belonging, because it’s too tempting to stop there. I have to push myself into personal and intimate spaces of belonging. I want people with refrigerator rights, I want people in personal and intimate space of belonging. These are the people who know how tired you are at the end of the day, the people who sit beside you on the couch and hold your hand when there are no words to say, the people who know what you’re thinking just by hearing the tone of your voice or the look in your eyes.

God help me be this kind of person, and help me not to resent those who aren’t willing to be that for me.

2 Comments on “Relationships

  1. steph–
    you write so well. i went through something similar to this with facebook & my blog for awhile. i could see i was laying myself bare for all to see, not understanding why it wasn't reciprocated. i was falling into the trap of just stopping at the social level…but always talking about the “naked” things.

    perspective is such a good thing. if i would have read this post while going through it i wouldn't have been able to see the forest for the trees…i wasn't able to see how wrapped up i was in “status” and “comments on blogs”…etc.

    i guess for me the situation was different…but the lesson the same. my prayer echos yours.

    those friends that are there to hold your hand & just know by the tone of voice or look in your eye…i want to be that kind of friend to the people God has for me.

    love you!


  2. Love you too girl. I thank God every time I think about how great it was he put us in the same family. I'm so blessed to have you!


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