For my brethren and companions’ sakes, I will now say, Peace be within thee. Because of the house of the Lord our God I will seek thy good. Psalm 122:8-9 (KJV)
In my job as a psychologist I work with people with intellectual disabilities. When the pandemic hit, we suddenly had to do all our work in confinement, and we were utterly unprepared to do so. After about the first month or so of being sheltered in place, I was approached by a mother asking for support for her intellectually disabled teenage daughter, who had symptoms of depression.
She spent most of the day asleep, and was reluctant to log on to online classes. After a few video call conversations, she was encouraged to log in to the Zoom session. Later, her mom shared with me that, as she watched the faces of her friends appear, greeting each other and saying good morning as if they were seeing each other in person, her daughter – with great surprise and excitement – expressed, “They’re alive!”
I was surprised and moved by the effect it had on her to relate, albeit through a screen, to her teachers and classmates. It did her good. Part of her depression was the thought that her friendships had ended with the lock down. What a wonderful discovery, thanks to technology, when she realized that her dear friends were still alive!
I felt the impulse to share (not only with her, but with everyone I interact with) the message of Psalm 122:8-9. Since before the pandemic, but now more than ever, this verse has touched me: For the sake of my brothers and friends I will say: Peace be with you! For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will be devoted to your good.
In Spanish the word used for “devoted”, is “desvivirse”. It has a strong meaning of striving. What is “striving”? According to the dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy (Real Academia Española), it is to show relentless and lively interest, solicitude or love for someone. However, the word “desvivirse” has much more depth than a dictionary can explain. In Spanish, it literally means to stop living, to give up one’s life for someone, to give up one’s own interests in favor of the other person in an affective relationship of sincere friendship.
The friendships that do good are those that demonstrate their lively interest, to whom we have and who have us in their thoughts and prayers, for whom we seek their welfare and who in turn seek our own, even renouncing our own interests and benefits. This reciprocal attitude of care and attention is the simple and profound mark of true friendship, tested in both good and not so good times.
In the month of February it is customary to celebrate the day of love and friendship; especially on the fourteenth, which in the United States occupies the calendar of decorations and purchases to declare love. In Mexico it also includes the celebration of all friendly relationships. It is a celebration of friendship; not only of those in love.
We might sometimes think that this date is a mere pretext in a culture influenced by consumerism. I would like to invite you to take a break and use this month to reflect on the importance of meaningful interpersonal relationships in our lives and how they influence our well-being.
Think of a time when you have been in situations where the people around you do not relate in a healthy way. Has this affected your feelings? Has it affected your well-being or even your health? Now bring to mind those environments that have been characterized by people around you relating to each other and to you in a positive and healthy way. What effect has that had on you?
The way we relate to others is a matter of utmost importance to having a fulfilling life. In fact, there are scales that measure the Quality of Life, and one of the dimensions that are taken into account to determine the index of well-being of a person is their interpersonal relationships. So, we must pay close attention to the sphere of our interpersonal relationships. Is there someone to whom you ought to give a friendly call?
In times of pandemic and confinement, we may feel that our friendships have drifted away. We may even think we have lost them, as my student felt during that first month of confinement. The apostle Paul also had periods of confinement when he was imprisoned. At those times, through prayer, he knew that his dear friends, brothers and sisters were present, and he was comforted by the thought of those positive and healthy relationships: Whenever I remember you, I thank my God, and when I pray for you, I do it always with joy (Philippians 1:3-4). Fortunately, in these difficult times, we too have the resource of prayer, but nowadays there are also many other ways to communicate with one another.
My prayer for you is that the way we relate to one another, in whatever context, may be one that generates community wherever we are. At home, at school, at work, at church, online or in person – let us form communities of peace and good.
In this month of love and friendship, let us be deeply grateful to all the people around us who have sought to give us peace and have gone out of their way to “desvivirse” for our sake.
Eva Martínez has a degree in psychology with a master’s degree in mental health with a specialty with people of intellectual and developmental disabilities. She is the coordinator Strengthened and Inclusive Families of Effeta ABP, an institution that seeks to promote the inclusion and exercise of the rights of people with intellectual disabilities and their families. She is part of the 2nd CLLI-Monterrey cohort coordinating team. She serves with her husband, Joel Sierra, in the pastorate of Jiréh Baptist Community of Monterrey. Mother of 4 children, Andrés, Luz Daniela, Samuel and Miguel.