One of the men we support in a group home setting refers to me as the “jokester” in the house. I’m the one who exists to take them to fun things and play along with their jokes. Not a workday goes by when I am not doing impressions of Hulk Hogan, Pee Wee Herman, or Arnold Schwarzenegger.
This same man has an affectionate relationship with his pillow. For whatever reason, he grew fond of this pillow and developed an attachment with it. One day, one of his roommates and I played a joke where we hid his pillow. Normally this would be enjoyed by all involved, and taken in fun. On this particular day when he found that his pillow was missing, he grew very upset with me and told me that I was not allowed to joke around anymore. For the next hour, I walked around the house doing things like cleaning, teeth brushing, but not engaging in jokes with this client. I was sitting in the living room watching the TV show “Full House” with one of his roommates and he came out of his room. When he sat down and watched TV, he spoke to me with deep regret in his voice, “Mike, can you please joke again? I don’t know what I was thinking when I told you not to joke around anymore.”
It dawned on me then that there are two essential qualities that make loving relationships possible: Trust and joy.
For Christians, if our relationships with humans are meant to embody our relationship with God, then our relationships are called to be relationships of trust. Our relationship with both God and one another are not perfect, nor do they always feel certain, but these relationships thrive and only exist within a state of trust.
Jean Vanier says it perfectly,
“Community is the place where we ideally learn to be ourselves without fear or constraint. Community life deepens through mutual trust among all its members.”
Trust says a few things. When I trust you, it says, “I am letting you into the sacred part of me, allowing you to see my vulnerability. I trust that when you see the parts of me that I don’t want to see, you will nurture and not destroy. I believe that you will bring gentle hands to all that I hold dear and all that I have…. My life.”
One of the ways that we know we are in a trusting relationship is a sense of aliveness.
Vanier said before meeting Pope Francis that joy is “a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved.” Joy says to me that “you enjoy me,” that “I matter to you.” Joy, being one of the fruits of the Spirit, is the gift of a relationship with God. In relationships where Shalom abides, we discover this same gift with one another that we discover with God. Joyful relationships are playful relationships. Joyful relationships are graceful relationships. Joyful relationships are loving relationships. Joyful relationships are trusting relationships. Joyful relationships are relationships where we discover the light of God, not only in relationship with Christ but with human beings created in God’s image.
The following week, as I joked about taking the pillow again, the man that we support replied “Mike, behave yourself and you be a big boy!” before erupting with laughter. He laughed because he knew that I meant him and his pillow no harm. He trusted me. While I don’t take myself too seriously, this trust, which goes beyond knowing that his needs will be met, is not something that I take lightly.