Leonard Sweet on Relationships
“A book is a hand stretched forth in the dark passage of life to see if there is another hand to meet if.” Leonard Sweet offers this Harriet Beecher Stowe metaphor for why authors write in his Acknowledgments for 11: Indispensable Relationships You Can’t Be Without and if you haven’t reached out your hand to pick up this book, you are missing out on an indispensable book for life’s journey. In 11, Sweet proposes that “the real meaning of life is not a journey question or an arrival question. It’s a relationship question.” Sweet offers relationship advice as a seasoned sojourner who has experienced some of the best and the worst in the realm of relationships. While 11 may not be nearly as controversial as some of Sweet’s earlier writings, it is seasoned with Sweet-ness borne out of his years of scholarly, futurist and prophetic emerging culture work.
Undeniably, I prefer to hear rather than read Sweet, and the first couple of chapters tasted like crumbs from the table to me, but a veritable feast is eventually served up and the book finishes with the crème de la crème – a chapter on relationship with “The Invisible 12th” – the Holy Spirit. While Sweet talks about friendship with God as the conclusion to his treatise on relationships, he does not minimize or equate this unique relationship with the other indispensable relationships he discusses. Sweet cautions, “God gives us closeness and intimacy with Christ, but do not mistake the near for the casual. Our relationship in the Holy Spirit is not one of equals, though it is one of lovers.”
While 11 can be read alone, as I did, it is best suited for reading within the context of relationship. Each chapter offers “Interactives” – thought provoking questions and discussion topics designed for the reader to interact with the text as well as with others. If you are like me and probably a few others who wonder whether we even have 11 friends who could somehow fit into one of Sweet’s categories of indispensable relationships, you will be pleasantly surprised as you read each chapter and put at least one name and one face to each of the 11. In classic Sweet fashion, he attempts to coin a new word: Withnesses. No, not WITnesses, but WITHnesses. “Withnesses is my shorthand for ‘indispensable relationships,'” Sweet says in his introduction. He goes on to posit, “Each of the 11 Withnesses presented in this book is a biblical character made into a metaphor that constitutes God’s Indispensable Dream Team for you. Your success or failure in life is shaped to a significant degree by the success or failure of these 11.”
While this book clearly details the benefits of the 11 types of relationships, personal experience bears witness that none of our lives fit neatly into some categorical formula, even on a metaphorical level. While many of us may dream of having a “Dream Team” to help make our dreams come true, I know far too many people who exist in quiet desperation without even a thought of reaching out a hand to grasp another hand to help them through the dark passages of life. For an outgoing people-person like myself who thrives in relationship with others, it is conceivable that I may have and be many of the 11 Withnesses, but some people are lucky to have or be only one or two and I’d hate to pronounce failure on their lives because of their lack of relationship, though I fear this may be true.
This book is a welcome breath of fresh air to remind us of the preeminence of relationships in a driven culture that is often more focused on doing than being, on accomplishments than accompaniments, on stocking up than standing with, on fighting for rights than living in love. This book will help you focus your life on what matters to God – relationships. Some of the relationship metaphors Sweet offers are:
- Who’s Your Jonathan? You Need a True Friend
- Who’s Your Jethro? You Need a Butt-Kicker
- Who’s Your Peter/Paul? You Need a Yoda
- Who’s Your Zaccheus? You Need a Reject
In “Who’s Your Jonathan?” Sweet sings the same song I was singing to my kids recently in his section: Not “Best,” but “True” friends. “The worst thing you can do is to play favorites with your Withnesses. God doesn’t play favorites with us – we mustn’t fall into the trap of relational hierarchy. Sooner or later, that game forces us to pit friend against friend – whether directly or indirectly.” I’m also fond of Sweet’s fair-minded ideas in “Who’s Your Zaccheus?” where he says, “Jesus didn’t relate to men as men and women as women, or to rejects as rejects, but to everyone he encountered as a person in need of love.” If you are interested in upping your relational IQ, then this is the book for you. After reading 11, you will not only value your existing relationships more, you will be a better “Withness” to others. I hope you will not read this book in isolation as I did, but that you will read it WITH others – perhaps with a small group of two or three friends, like a “Three is Enough” group.