Balancing Identity and Relationship

God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
Genesis 1:27 (NASB)

John Zizioulas, an Eastern Orthodox theologian, wrote two major books, Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church, and Communion and Otherness: Further Studies in Personhood and the Church. These together are significant theological works on personhood, identity in Christ, and our relationship to God and others. He sources Greek Patristic tradition, the Cappadocian fathers, Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic thought. Through detailed theological study, Zizioulas emphasizes the importance of our “otherness,” our separate identity, and that our true identity can only be realized through communion with God and others.

As all truth is God’s truth, concepts of “communion and otherness” parallel the psychological concepts of attachment and boundaries. These concepts are at the heart of issues in our emotional life, and can cause much confusion and emotional pain.

Psychological theories emphasize the crucial importance of attachment between mother and infant. We later connect to our father, then friends and perhaps a spouse. At the same time, we also need to explore and develop our unique identity using healthy emotional boundaries. Weak boundaries can lead us to lose our identity. However, strong boundaries can prevent attachment in relationships. At times we avoid attachment, other times we attach too much. We want communion, but we also require freedom and our identity to express our unique gifts.

God created us in His image, with specific gifts and a unique identity to act in freedom. He also created us to be in relationship with Him and others (Matthew 22:37). Maturity expressed in these God-given tasks leads to a more Christ-centered life in this world. This is the fruit of sanctification, dependent on the Holy Spirit.

This is the path to spiritual and relational growth, to deepen communion and otherness, balancing relationship and identity, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13, NASB).

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