I’ve been hearing, reading, studying, and ‘Google-ing’ a lot about relationships lately. It seems to be where the needle is stuck on the record player of my mind and heart. And I’m learning that I have an awful lot to learn. I’m discovering that sometimes I’m not a good wife, parent, friend, or neighbor because I’m not a good me. And unfortunately, when I’m not a good me, I’m not good for anyone around me.

So what makes me a good me? Well, a lot of things. And really just one thing: I gotta’ be me. Sounds simple, huh? Not so fast.

Take a moment and go through your mind’s eye to your ‘friend list’. Unless there are identical twins among them, no two look exactly alike, do they? And even if there are identical twins, you probably know them well enough to successfully tell them apart. So why on earth do we kill ourselves (especially us ladies) trying to be exactly alike? Way beyond fashion trends, hair styles or color, and home decorating tips, our comparisons of each other – against the other – keep us stressed out, anxious, unpleasant, and flat-out exhausted.

If God wanted us all to be the same, why didn’t He simply line up Michael, Gabriel, and the other angels on an assembly line and mass produce humanity? Because that would make us robots. And God doesn’t want robots. Robots are not ‘emotionally available’. God wants people. Individuals. Souls. Heartbeats. As my hero and friend Dr. Ravi Zacharias puts it in his elegant Indian accent, “We are not bodies who happen to have a soul. We are souls who happen to have a body.” That’s right. First and foremost, we are souls. Our bodies are just a byproduct of our DNA. The genetic lottery if you will. And admittedly, some win bigger than others. (Well, I had to lighten things up a little, didn’t I?)

So when we hear “love your neighbor as yourself”, what does it look like? We assume it’s always in the most positive light: be kind, be gracious, be helpful, be friendly, be charitable, be forgiving. But all those attributes assume that we are kind, gracious, helpful, friendly, charitable, and forgiving of our selves.

Alas, most of us are not.

If I truly love my neighbor as myself, will it be helpful or harmful? In their book The Cure, What if God isn’t who you think He is and neither are you? authors Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol, and John Lynch pose this question, among others: “What if it was less important that anything ever gets fixed than that nothing has to be hidden?” Can you imagine? Being in relationship with others who are not fixated on ‘fixing you’ but on knowing you and being known by you? Relationships built on being honest, authentic, and real with each other? This, my friends, is where we find freedom to heal and to experience genuine, loving, life-giving relationships.

Here’s the gist of what I’m saying: We simply cannot over-invest our souls in the lives of those around us – our spouse, our children, our friends, our children’s friends, our co-workers, or our neighbors. Hear me out. I’m not suggesting we go all emotionally bare naked with anyone and everyone, revealing our deepest darkest secrets over a loudspeaker at the grocery store. But I am being challenged to ‘know and be known’. To let my guard down, let people in, and dare I say it? Be vulnerable. Oh, I cringe even as I hear that word go through my brain and come out of my fingertips on the keyboard! But it is possible. It is terrifying. It is glorious. And it is the heartbeat of relationships.

The challenge for me is this: when I allow myself to embrace God’s great love, boundless grace, and passionate pursuit of relationship, I’m a good me. I’m not perfect, but I’m real. And that makes it safe for people around me to be real. Loving my neighbor begins to look like God loving my neighbor. And God loving me. And me loving me. And my neighbor loving God. And my neighbor loving me.

Sounds like a pretty good gig, huh? be you