As a single, female, 20-something Christian with an increasing number of married and child-ridden friends, I spend a lot of time thinking about relationships. More specifically, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to get one, why I haven’t got one, what I should be doing until I do have one, asking God to make me ready for one in the hope that he’ll be so impressed with my piety that Prince Charming (rugby-playing, politics-loving, world-savvy but oh-so-Godly and 6’2”, if you’re wondering) will suddenly appear on my doorstep.
Relationships are key to what it means to be human. We’re naturally social creatures, created to be in relationship with God and with one another. In Genesis, God says that “it is not good for man to be alone”. Relationships are what we gravitate towards; they’re part of our make-up, our natural state. In other words, they’re part of our God-given humanity.
Ubuntu is a word that gives a name to this concept – an old African word that means “I am because you are”. It’s the idea that I exist, in myself, as a person, only as much as you exist, in yourself, as a person. So if someone’s humanity is compromised, this means that my humanity is compromised. It means that if friends or family – in fact, if any member of this global community we live in is suffering in anyway, then I am suffering too and it is my duty to speak and act against it.
This word helps me to understand a truly biblical concept: that I have a very real and deep-rooted connection with every single human being on this planet – a connection put there by God and one that decreases my own humanity if it goes unrealised. This really is what loving your neighbour as yourself is. It means you genuinely take the plight of the poor, the homeless, the oppressed as your own.
A challenge, therefore, in our relationship-obsessed culture: do we honestly think that God cares as much about our sex life as He does about the social injustice that exists in our world?
I’m not saying that charity work replaces being married, or that it isn’t hard being single sometimes. I am asking us to redefine and broaden how we think about relationships. Relationships make us human, and it is right that we seek them out, but we must realise we’re already in relationship with the 1.4 billion people that go to bed hungry every night. As John Donne so eloquently says, “No man is an island… Each man’s death diminishes me; For I am involved in mankind”.