The writer most of know as the creator of The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, said: “If you want to build a ship, don’t herd people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
If people long for the sea, if they yearn to set sail on its immensity, then they will figure-out how to build a ship. They will discover how to fashion vessels for their yearning.
But, if people don’t love the sea, if it doesn’t call out to them, then you can put them to work in a shipyard or enroll them in boatbuilding 101, and there’s still no guarantee they will ever finish a ship or set sail for the further shore.
It a sense, the sea creates ships. Likewise, love creates relationships. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus described the immensity of God’s love for the whole world and for all people: He said to his disciples: Be a person who loves like your Father in heaven, “who makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45).
God gives love freely and generously, without regard for who deserves it and who does not. The sun rises over places where people honor God and over places where they don’t; it shines its life-giving light on people who are grateful for it and on people who think it revolves around them; it warms the skin of people who acknowledge that it comes from the heart of God and of people who never give it or God a second thought.
Rain falls on fields tended by farmers who go to church, and on people who never darken the door. It fills the streams of people who look after their neighbors and of people who can’t be bothered to do anything for anyone other than themselves. Rain flows into the water tables and wells of Baptists and Buddhists, of sinners and saints, of Democrats and Republicans.
God’s all-embracing love is the most wonderful and most beautiful reality in the universe. Divine love draws us toward itself. That love calls for vessels, and they are our relationships with other people. Learning to love and be loved by other people transports us into deeper experience of God’s love for us.
These vessels—our relationships—are far from perfect. They can be rickety and leaky, weather-beaten and damaged. After all, everyone we know is wounded in some way. All of us hurt. And, as we all know, hurt people hurt people.
So our relationships aren’t always like gleaming cruise ships, gliding confidently and impressively across the water. Sometimes they’re like dinghies or lifeboats or, even, rubber rafts. We wonder if they’re going to make it, and, in this fallen world, sometimes they don’t. Not every relationship survives a long journey on the open water.
But, relationships are the vessels we have; they are how we go to love and how love comes to us. So, we keep repairing them, cleaning away the debris, and patching the sails. We tend to them, nurture them, pray for them, and make ourselves fit to be a part of them. And, in relationships, we take the adventure of real life.