Each month, a member of the board will share a reflection on the Soul Matters monthly theme and the state of the church. The theme for October is Cultivating Relationship. This month’s post is offered by Janna Sundby.
Cultivating deep relationships is easier when there’s shared respect between people.
I’ve been shopping at Cub in Shorewood for over 25 years. There was a very tall guy who collects the grocery carts and does various maintenance work inside the store. I’ve seen him many times over the seasons and years. In winter he wears a huge fur hat, and in the summer, he wears a wide-brimmed ratan hat. Seeing him work tirelessly in all kinds of weather, made me appreciate him. I noticed how he seemed to know the all the little kids who came into the store. We’d exchange pleasantries and comments on the weather. He was kind enough to jump my car one winter day when I found the battery dead. We never talked deeply about anything, and I found out by accident that we stood on the opposite sides of the 2016 election. I left that alone and focused on what I respected in him.
As the pandemic spread, we chatted through our masks on a superficial basis. Last Spring, he told me that they found cancer in his kidney. He said he’d had a sore back for a couple of years but didn’t want to go to a doctor because his wife was recovering from breast cancer, and he didn’t like doctors. Well, I never got to see him again. He died in August. I found out in September. I inquired about him during the summer and learned the cancer had spread to his lungs, then to his bones and lastly into his pancreas and liver. Now, whenever I go to Cub, I think about him and feel sad that I never got to say “good-buy”. I’m trying to put my finger on why his absence makes me sad. I think it’s because I did respect his work ethic, his love of kids and his jokester attitude with his co-workers. I miss seeing his hats and teasing him about the weather. There were many values that we did share, even though we weren’t close friends.
How much work does it take to cultivate a friendship beyond a superficial relationship? Why do we select some people to be friends with and not others? Cultivating a friendship takes time and energy from both parties and I’m learning it also needs to include vulnerability, empathy and deep listening. I can see now that the people I retain as friends have values similar to my values. We can’t align with everyone on every value, but actions do illustrate your values.
I’m sick and tired of the pandemic, but I will say, I’ve cultivated stronger relationships with many church members because of it. I participated in a bunch of events I purchased at the auction, as well as the recent women’s retreat, some “boomer zoomer” outings and our monthly board meetings. I realized there are very few places in my life where I can be vulnerable. These church gatherings, even when not in person, allow you to be vulnerable. It feels like a safe place. The retreat conversations included some deep sharing, and I gained deeper respect for those women who were willing to share.
My spouse Steve and I used to wonder out loud, “Why were both sets of our parents so close to their church friends as opposed to workmates or neighbors?” It seemed outdated to us. As we’ve aged, we’ve found the answer to the question. It’s because both sets of parents found people who shared similar values and they found them at their respective churches. It was evident when my dad died, my parents church group was a huge support network for my mom. It was the same with Steve’s family when his father passed away and his mother moved. Both of our parents’ church groups were very special to them for many years and we simply did not understand that dynamic when we were young. Now that we’re the “older ones” and our work lives and raising kids are behind us, we feel most connected to our church community. It’s something I’m truly grateful for. We both have new appreciation for why our parents were so close to their church friends. Speaking for myself, I’m grateful for being a part of this community. I respect and appreciate you. Thanks.
— Janna Sundby
Member, UUCM Board of Trustees