I started this post a couple of weeks ago and kept coming back to it but just couldn’t quite put it all together. I wasn’t going to publish it but I think a few of us can relate. It’s not totally polished or clean but I’ve had these thoughts swirling for quite some time now and then I had an incident happen that drew a clear line of demarcation. And I thought, This is what I mean.
So here it is.
Yesterday, on the spur of the moment, Matt and I decided to visit a church we’ve never been to. I’d had to run and meet someone leaving him with all the kids so I got to the new church before he did. I was standing outside waiting for him and a man (probably late 20s) walked up with his dog and sat on a rock just a few feet from me. He was obviously a “transient”. I don’t know how else to describe him except to use that word. And I don’t mean it negatively, just descriptively.
He had a dog and I commented on what I thought he had called him. Bums. He laughed and said, No, Bones.
We ended up exchanging small talk for a few minutes. I said that I was waiting for my husband and three kids. He said, Three? Wow, you must be busy! I said, Well, actually we’ve had four in four years but we lost one. As I explained, his face transformed into one of the most sincere looks of compassion I’ve ever received. He closed his eyes and blew his breath out slowly.
There was something about him; he had a certain depth and simple sincerity to him. I asked him more questions about himself and when I found out he was from New Hampshire, I asked him how he ended up here. He shared how he had turned from the Lord when he was 17 after his dad died unexpectedly and had spent the next seven years on the road. He had recently come back to the Lord and God had given him a picture of mountains and rivers and the stirring to make his way this way. He originally thought God wanted him in Washington but when he was coming through this area, he knew this was it.
He said he spent those wayward years turning people away from God and now he wants God to use him to turn people towards him. He’s not sure what that looks like but he’s been experiencing such an incredible community of faith (at that church) that he’s decided to stay longer.
We talked more about losing my Grace, him losing his dad, him losing three children through abortions that different girlfriends chose to have during those wayward years, how loss and grief can make faith deeper and stronger.
It was one of the richest and most genuine, faith-encouraging conversations I’ve gotten into ever with a stranger at church. There was no shallow small talk and then looking for an excuse to leave or go sit down, having done our part to “greet somebody new”.
And I knew what he was talking about. That the fact that he was experiencing a rich community at church was enough to keep him here longer. Because it’s not the norm.
And here’s where I’m going to be very honest about something.
Sometimes I get very, very tired of Churchdom in our country. Not CHRISTendom. Churchdom.
I get so weary of showing up on Sunday and knowing what to expect. High fashion. Shallow small talk. Word of the latest weekend on the lake, at the beach, in the mountains, at work. Rarely, if ever, getting into deeper or faith-filled conversations. Leaving and still feeling disconnected and like this whole Christian “community” is a farce.
I’m not saying those other conversations are wrong; it’s just when that’s all there is week after week, it leaves a soul desiring so much more.
I sat through the service yesterday and thought about that guy and our conversation. I thought about what was different about it. And I realized it was because there was no pretense. He didn’t have any self-consciousness about himself; he was simply engaging the next person that showed up in his sphere (me) with conversation that was spurred from a natural outflow of his walk with God.
And then the next day I was reading in 1st Corinthians 4. Paul is confronting the Corinthians because they had started to act as if their wealth and giftings were somehow of themselves. He said, What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? (1st Corinthians 4:7)
He then went on to contrast their (the apostles’) condition: To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless (4:11).
I was completely taken aback at the word homeless. Because it’s exactly how I had described this man. And it made me wonder (again) if we’re the ones to be pitied. We have our wealth and giftings and more resources available than any other generation and yet so often it produces boasting, pride, selfishness, shallowness. Just before these verses Paul tells them, I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed you are still not ready (3:2).
I don’t want to be a Corinthian. (I also don’t want to be homeless.)
But I do want depth. I want it in my own soul and I want it in the soul of the Church.
So how do we do that? What does it take?
I think it first takes spending time with the Lord and in his Word. This transforms our hearts over time and creates a tangible outflow of loving him and loving others. Through conversation, through prayer, through service, through encouragement, through exhortation, and so on. “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1st John 3:18).
And then I think it takes intentionally creating an atmosphere of authenticity and openness, truly engaging others. It means we care about the next person who shows up in our sphere; we decide that they matter. Sometimes it means that we’re the initiators and others times it means we’re the responders. But we engage.
So I want to start there. I can’t change an entire culture but I can decide that the next person who crosses my sphere matters. Their story matters. Their life matters. I can look them in their eyes and listen with my heart and maybe, just maybe, they’ll walk away feeling a little less isolated and a little more known.