The essence of our lives can be boiled down to relationship. Relationship with God, and with one another. For this reason, the nature and health of our relationships are of the utmost importance. Most of the problems that we face in the Western world are a result of dysfunctional relationships, and most of the problems that we face when being joined with other brothers and sisters in organic church life are rooted in confusion about the nature of co-dependent, independent, and INTER-dependent relationships.
A couple of weeks ago, I conducted an interview on the blog with my wife. (you can read that interview by clicking HERE) In that interview, she shared a snapshot of life in the church community that we are part of. In response to that interview, someone asked a very insightful question about the potential pitfalls of dysfunctional relationships that can occur in this type of a community. I thought this question deserved some more attention.
While I do not claim to be an expert on relationships, I have experienced co-dependent, independent, and INTER-dependent relationships in the course of my life. In today’s post, I’d like to share some of the personal discoveries that I have made in all three types of relationships. I am convinced that knowing the differences between these kinds of relationships are essential if we’re going to move forward with seeing the Lord’s eternal purpose truly carried out in community.
Co-dependent relationships are built upon brokenness and lack. Its foundation is a vacuum. People who operate from brokenness and lack tend to desperately look for life and wholeness externally in another person. When people who operate from lack or brokenness find one another, a seemingly strong bond can emerge pretty quickly. This relational bond usually results in a drug like euphoric sense of fulfillment at the beginning of the relationship. While this can seem like legitimate intimacy, it is a cheap counterfeit.
Co-dependent relationships are unhealthy and eventually self destruct because they are based on taking, not giving. Like a drug, the participant unintentionally uses the other to meet a perceived need. Eventually, the need can no longer be met by the other, and this often leads to a series of destructive behaviors.
Co-dependent relationships often have a possessive and controlling element to them. Because the security and identity of the person is tied to the relationship, anything that seems to threaten or rival the relationship is seen as an enemy. Like an addict, there is a sense of continually needing to demand more from the other person in the relationship in the attempt to fill their void. This often leads to immorality or various sorts of fleshly engagements in the attempt to connect and fulfill their perceived need.
Those who are involved in co-dependent relationships often drain the life out of and suffocate one another. Because of this, and the possessive quality of the co-dependent relationship, other longstanding relationships suffer neglect and break down leading to further isolation.
While co-dependent relationships are widely understood to be unhealthy, independent relationships are often seen as healthy and responsible in our Western culture. This is a tragedy. For me personally, the heartache of co-dependent relationships also led me into independent relationships as a reaction.
In my opinion, the term independent relationship is an oxymoron. There isn’t much relating that can occur with this kind of a mindset. Because of the fear of co-dependency, an excessive emphasis on boundaries and walls keep relationships shallow, segregated, and independent. For those with this type of a mindset, the bulk of time and energy in life is rooted in daily living and simply functioning as an independent unit among other independent units.
Those who have been deeply assaulted by the performance based religious system also tend to gravitate toward independence as a way of life. Independence is a way to operate in life at a safe distance from those who may evaluate and condemn us.
Those who operate from an independent mindset can also tend to function as spiritual ‘supermen’, dropping in to correct another, or to share some needed insight without the context of a real shared life relationship. While some of the qualities and boundaries seen in independent relationships can be a legitimate correction from co-dependency, the heart of the Lord beats for so much more relational depth. If co-dependency is one side of the coin, the independent mentality is the other side of the same fleshly coin.
INTER-dependent relationships, however, are rooted in wholeness, life, and love. While co-dependent and inter-dependent relationships both seek to deeply relate with others, the foundations of those desires are fundamentally different. Inter-dependent folks have a strong desire to love others by giving and serving with the treasure & abundance of life that is inside of them. It comes from a place of wholeness.
Inter-dependent relationships can be deeply intimate. While inter-dependent relationships will take on different expressions based on the specific type of relationship that it is, each inter-dependent relationship is governed and defined by indwelling love (Christ). Its only boundary is love (Christ). Its only limit is love (Christ), who is limitless. Unlike co-dependent relationships, however, inter-dependent relationships do not lead to isolation and relational breakdown in the lives of those involved. They are not possessive and suffocating, but liberating.
Inter-dependent relationships are deeply healing. Because the parties involved in inter-dependent relationships serve one another from the abundance of life within them, these kinds of relationships have an unlocking effect on those involved. The inter-dependent relationship tends to cause the other to discover and thrive in their true identity. The relationships that Jesus had described in the gospels are a perfect example of this.
Jesus did not need or trust the flesh of others. He operated from His Father’s indwelling life and approached others from this place of wholeness. He was certainly not co-dependent.
Jesus was also not independent, however.
He was not a spiritual superman who dropped in as a wise sage quoting proverbs all the time. He made Himself accessable through real, shared life relationship. Jesus shared His everyday life with those who had been given to Him in relationship. He had deeply intimate relationships that were unlocking and liberating. The relationships he had with His mother, with John, and with Mary of Bethany are powerful examples of this.
While much more could be said about all of this, I believe understanding the nature of relationship is key to grasping the very mission of God. The ekklesia that He is building is not a collection of co-dependent relationships, nor is it a collection of independent individuals. His community is a collection of intimate inter-dependent relationships rooted in, and fueled by, His indwelling life.