The “Temporary Forever”

Photo by Lilian Chow

Photo by Lilian Chow

Why do we form connections?

According to scientific studies, we form connections because we are profoundly shaped by our social environment and we have long-term health problems and suffer when we don’t form social bonds 1. This essentially means that our well-being depends on others 2. Some say it’s because we have basic desires – the desire to be included, to have a sense of control over our lives, and to be liked, or at the very least, accepted 3. It seems pretty obvious. We need to be connected, and some of the biggest human fears are abandonment and isolation. Even Jesus felt it on the cross, when he called out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 4 Jesus cries in anguish because the separation from God is painful. Jesus, who had been with God from the very beginning, even before Abraham and all of his descendants, had for the first – and only – time been torn away from his heavenly Father whom he loved. Despite being God, he was 100% man, so of course – he was sad.

But what if you were placed in a new environment and you knew you’d only be there for a short period of time. Would you still form connections? Or would you just keep yourself busy and live an independent life, because the hurt of saying goodbye or detaching yourself mid-way wouldn’t be worth it? Forming connections is always a risk, and feeling hurt is part of that risk. Perhaps that’s why there are so many tragic films about the girl who gets cancer or some deadly disease and breaks up with her boyfriend without telling him, as a romantic gesture to “protect his heart” even though the dramatic irony is too painful for the audience to bear 5. For a large part of my adult life, I’ve been in such a situation. Not quite as dramatic, but still, I was placed in what I like to call the “temporary forever”. It’s a place I’m in temporarily – perhaps for a year, perhaps for more. But in the meantime, it is my current forever and everything – it’s my reality for the next who-knows-how-long! So what do I do? I hate the “temporary forever” because it’s hard, and it’s not my choice.

I came to New York from Hong Kong for college, and fell in love with the city. I wanted to stay, I wanted to make a life here, I had dreams I wanted to pursue in the city. The college made a mistake on my visa, so I went home. I fell back in love with my hometown, I got a job that I woke up every morning excited to go to, I made genuine bonds with my students, and I was getting used to coming home to my amazing family. Circumstances urged me back to the city with promises that I would be able to stay this time. The promises fizzled just as I had begun packing and planning my life back in New York. And now I’m back, but it looks like I’m only here for a year. “Temporary forever” no longer sounds like a romantic notion of beautiful uncertainty and long-lasting, memory-making relationships that will taste bittersweet when I recall them in the future. Instead, “temporary forever” just sounds ugly to me. I don’t want to reconnect with fear that I will have to deal with a crippling sense of loss again. Anyone who has broken up with a friend or significant other and had troubling healing and trusting again knows what I’m talking about.

For many Christians, the “temporary forever” is how they see their lives on Earth. If you’ve been in a Christian community for long enough, you’ve probably heard the phrase “in this world but not of this world.” It’s an incredibly helpful phrase when you’re stuck in a challenging situation and need to remind yourself that you were made for more than this broken world. It helps to know that God will come again, that there will be judgement, that wrongs will be made right, and that as Christians we are set apart. It is also incredibly helpful in keeping our eyes focused on Christ, prioritizing Him over other (probably good!) things of this world. A popular verse quoted to support this phrase comes from the First Epistle of John:
“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” 6

It seems like a pretty harsh command – don’t love the world or anything in the world! It almost seems like an extension of my fear of trusting in the “temporary forever” – don’t make connections, don’t love anyone, everything is going to pass. But that doesn’t seem quite right – could the Bible really be asking us to just not love? What does not loving the world look like?

Perhaps we need to turn to more Scripture to really envision what this phrase is getting at. The night before his crucifixion, Jesus prays for his disciples:

“I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.” 7

Like Christ, we are not of the world. Yet, like Christ, we are sent into the world. Like Christ then, not loving the world cannot possibly look like rejection and fear of forming connections. The Gospels detail the interactions and connections Jesus made with all those he crossed paths with – be it those he taught, healed, reprimanded, cared for, or cried with. He did not live life on his own, avoiding the evils of the Earth, waiting for his death. Rather, he did the opposite. John documents that:

“It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”

Not only did Jesus not sit around waiting for his return to God, we took on the work of a servant so that he could show us what unconditional love truly looked like. He washed the feet of the disciples, even Judas who he knew would betray him, even though the act was completely contrasted with his equal status with God.

Why did Jesus bother to wash feet when he could simply have just waited for his crucifixion and his return to God? Perhaps it was to model how we are meant to love and what the connections we are called to form look like. As Christians, we too were sent into this world. We cannot then, take up a posture of “we are not of this world” and live our lives in isolation and ignorance of the world, simply hoping that “heaven” will come quickly.

The next question is then why was I sent into the world? Or, why am I here? That’s a question that I am still asking myself – whether it be why God has sent me to New York, or why I am alive at all. But at least I am confident that there is purpose to the “temporary forever”. And if I truly believe that I am the salt of the world and the light of the world 8 then perhaps I must remove my fear of connections – for what good is my “saltiness” or my “brightness” if I am in hiding?

Notes:

  1. Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117(3), 497-529
  2. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-we-are-wired-to-connect/
  3. http://inspiredcommitment.com/emotional-connection-what-it-is-and-why-it-matters/
  4. Matthew 27:46 (NIV)
  5. My Life Without Me (2003), Love @ Seventeen (2016), Scent of a Woman (2011)
  6. 1 John 2:15 (NIV)
  7. John 17:14-19 (NIV)
  8. Matthew 5:13-16 (NIV)