Think about the people you see on a regular basis. Your family, your coworkers, friends from school, friends from church, or the barista at your favorite coffee shop might come to mind. Now, think about how many of these people you actually have a relationship with. Now, how many of these people do you have a deep relationship with?
The reality is we can know a lot of people without ever really knowing them or allowing them to know us. The internet makes this even easier, allowing us to connect with people without even necessarily knowing their real names. In a world in which which we are more connected than ever, we still see reports of loneliness increasing, because fewer and fewer people are cultivating strong, deep relationships.
Father Matthew Spencer, OSJ recently reflected on this trend on St. Joseph’s Workshop, saying, “It’s easy online to find a rather superficial group of people that we agree with. Maybe you have a craft, a hobby that you enjoy doing on your own, and you discover friends online because of a common, shared interest.”
“I just find it very interesting that online people can gel in this way. And yet, in real life relationships we struggle. We struggle to get along. We struggle to communicate, to hang out together.”
Fr. Matthew pointed out that while we are quick to join a group online or connect with people over a shared interest, we often look over opportunities to deepen our relationships with our family members, or become friends with the person sitting in the pew right next to us.
“Why is it that we avoid that connection and that community in more essential elements like our family life, like our church communities?” Fr. Matthew asked. “Why is it that so many people never interact with their church communities and never establish relationships with people who are there inside their local churches, in the pews next to them?”
“I think because it’s harder to enter into that kind of community. It’s easy online to find a rather superficial group of people we agree with. But ultimately that connection in that relationship is only as deep as what we put into it and what we share. And if it’s only whatever our particular interest is, then those relationships will remain at that point until we go deeper.”
In reflecting on this, Fr. Matthew suggested that one reason we don’t go deeper in our relationships with those closest to us is because deep relationships can be more difficult, more messy, and require more of us.
“I think because you and I experience challenge in family life – we tend to struggle to die to ourselves and give ourselves to our family life – it’s much easier to find happiness in superficial things,” he said. “It’s much easier to go online, find people who share common interests and hobbies. And since we don’t share conflict and division those relationships seem easier. They seem more fun. And, ultimately, oftentimes are more superficial.”
And while there may be more struggle, conflict, and work involved in deep and meaningful relationships, that is often where the most growth comes from. They give us opportunities to give of ourselves, to practice forgiveness, and grow in virtue.
“It’s something we have to work on,” Fr. Matthew acknowledged. “We see other people as other too often. We see other people as divided from us, opposed to us, as enemies against who we are. And if only we could start to see people more clearly, with a common bond with the common family that we have in Christ, in the human race, with our family ties, then we wouldn’t need just fun activities written by Facebook posts to push us to come together. We’d come together much more often, much more charitably, and with a lot more mission in mind.”
Listen to the full reflection below: