This recent Labor Day, our end of summer holiday, I was back in my home state, vacationing in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. As a proud Michigander, my feet were happy to be on the Lake Michigan shore and in view of the great Mackinac bridge. This amazing work of engineering unites our state, spanning the five-mile distance between the upper and lower peninsulas and is affectionately referred to as the Mighty Mac. It's the fifth longest suspension bridge in the world.
Labor Day is a special day for the Mighty Mac, being the only day each year pedestrians are allowed to walk the span. Every year, tens of thousands of people meander across to experience the grandeur of both the art-deco bridge towers and the Great Lakes vistas in all directions. I was blessed to walk with three generations of my family, together delighting in the beauty of a sunny Michigan day. The bridge is longer than it looks at first glance, but it is well worth the effort. We exercised some underused muscles and even earned a few blisters.
As I walked 200 feet above the water with family at my side, I thought of the bridges that we cross in relationships. Reaching out to mend misunderstandings, making an effort to include those who feel excluded, and navigating tensions to find healing, are all bridges of compassion we can choose to walk. It is not easy to mend relationships, it requires exerting ourselves and reaching out past the comfortable. We all choose how to respond to adversity, and the natural impulse is to withdraw from the relationship. We isolate to protect from pain, but in doing so we contribute to building walls between each other rather than bridges of connection.
There are a number of lessons that we can learn from the exertion of a bridge walk.
Walking the bridge, I was amazed at the height of the Mighty Mac’s towers as I saw them from an entirely new point of view. It reminded me that things look very different when we take the time to look at them from another angle. Making the journey to understand another person’s point of view helps build the relational bridge. It is easy to be dismissive when we have not taken the time to understand what life looks like from another person’s perspective. Walking in another person’s shoes requires us to think outside of our own experience and build muscles of empathy for how someone else is experiencing life.
The five-mile hike across the Mackinac bridge is a challenge, and it can be windy and cold or sun-baked and hot. Reaching out to someone who has hurt us can be hard. Bridging the divide requires serious effort and comes with an emotional toll. We will find ourselves weary and injured at times. But making the effort to extend the olive branch in a relationship matters to God. In scripture Jesus tells us, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God”(Matthew 5:9). Making peace is challenging, but God values it.
The Mackinaw bridge is five miles long, but getting to and from the bridge almost doubles the journey. Bridging relational divides does not come quickly or easily; it is harder than it looks at the first glance. Jesus told his disciples it would require perseverance when he told them they needed forgive 70 times 7 (Matthew 18:22). He was not advocating for a certain number of times for forgiving, but suggesting that grace needs to be extended consistently. God was not stingy in extending grace to us, and we should follow suit in how we are generous with others. We are not called to be doormats, as we are image bearers of God, but as God’s kingdom people we live in love not hate. We put boundaries around bad behavior while forgiving the offense and praying for healing.
On our bridge walk we ran into old friends and got acquainted with new friends. Our walk brought us closer together as a family and gave us a grand adventure to cross off our bucket list. As we take the initiative to step out of the easy and comfortable, there are blessings to be found in abundance. Relationships can find healing and restoration, and we rediscover our faithful God. Staying where we feel safe limits our view of God. If we believe we have a big God we should be brave enough to take big steps. Not everyone will be receptive, but we will have the blessing of knowing that we took the moral high ground by choosing mercy over judgment (James 2:13). Loving others points people to the love of Jesus. Exert yourself for your sisters and brothers so they might experience a glimpse of the compassion of Christ.
The bridge was busy and the walk was long, but there were great rewards. Majestic beauty, family memories, and lake-side ice cream. As a displaced Michigander, I invite you to walk the Mighty Mac some Labor Day and enjoy our state treasure. And as servant of God’s kingdom, I urge you to step out over a bridge of compassion and discover the blessings God offers to those who serve him faithfully.
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster