Human relationships are difficult. So many attempts at communication feel painfully inadequate. Most human interactions fall far below the luminous vision we cherish in our hearts.

Physically we occupy common spaces but the distance between us is frequently calculated in kilometers, seldom in centimeters. We long for expansive open spaces in which to truly encounter one another. Instead we meet closed doors and impenetrable walls. We want to be genuine, authentic, and vulnerable. But we find ourselves paralyzed by artificiality.

We look for gentleness, but so often confront the other with the hard edges of our harsh judgments and our secret wounds. We hope to be understood; but frequently feel we have not been heard and find the other opaque and incomprehensible.

We are like a choir in which each chorister sings from a different score, responding to an individual rhythm shared by no one. There may be moments of harmony. We catch occasional glimpses of a common melody. But, most often, our music is discordant and out of tune.

It is tempting to think it is only me. Perhaps I alone live in this strange lonely space of disconnection and confusion around other people. But, human community is a challenge for all people. The awkwardness of relating deeply to the other is universal.

Why is it so difficult for human beings to open fully to one another? Why are human relationships so often such a challenge? Why is it so hard to simply enter authentically and openly into human communion? Why are we so often guarded and defensive around other people who are essentially harmless?

There are no doubt multiple answers to any of these questions. Perhaps it is our upbringing. The difficulty of human community may relate to the environments in which we struggle to meet. Perhaps it is simply some deep fracture that runs through the entire human race that keeps us from truly opening to and embracing one another.

But the “why” questions may not be the best questions to ask. Perhaps the important questions are the “what” and the “how” questions.

What can I do in response to the fractured reality of most of the human relationships I experience?

Howdo I want to respond when I become aware of the distance that so often separates me from other people?

When I recognize the inevitable distance between myself and the other, the most helpful thing I can do is to use my awareness of that distance as a lever to open more deeply to my soul. The truth is human relationships are unsatisfying. There is no human relationship, no matter how deep, or how comfortable, that can ultimately satisfy the deepest inner longings and desires of my spirit.

We human beings were designed to find our deepest longings ultimately addressed, not by other people, any more than by money, accomplishment, or worldly accolades, but by the deeper reality of that Mystery spiritual traditions call “God”. Every relational shortcoming offers another opportunity to open to the voice within that calls us to live in response to the inner urgings of the Divine.

The brokenness of all human relationships is good news. If we allow them to do their work, the harsh barbs of human interactions have the capacity to open us to the possibility of communion with that robust reality of the Spirit that is not subject to the fickle changes of the external world. There is a deeper stream that is always calling us to find hope and light that no one can take from us. We are created to live in tune with that abiding reality that does not rise and fall with the ebb and flow of uneasy feelings or the vagaries of imperfect human community.

When I find myself in awkward relationships, I want to respond from that deeper place of my being that is not thrown off-kilter by anything that may happen between me and any other person. I want to speak and act from that deeper abiding reality that there is something much more to who I am than the rough edges of awkward human relationships.

Every human interaction is an opportunity for profound spiritual practice. The rough spots in human community can break open my heart to discover the true strength that exists in the deepest part of my being. From this deep awareness, I am free to respond with strength, steadiness and security. The responses that flow from this place will always bring more life. I will discover the possibility of healing, no matter how painful the fractures in my relationships may be.

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