As Christians, we say we believe in community. We talk about investing in our church family. We want to seek connection at our children’s school. We discuss the ways we can reach out and believe this is biblical--a way to live out the Great Commission found in Matthew 28. We teach our children to share, to make friends, to be kind to those around them. But do we do what we say we do? Are there actions behind these beliefs?
When we are at one of our children’s games and a mom approaches the stands, do we invite her to join our group? Or, do we watch her head off to sit alone while we relax in the comfort of what is known? When we attend choir and band concerts several times a year, do we look for ways to meet new faces and enfold them well? Or do we smile and nod and say nothing more, looking for long-held friends?
And do we ever stop, for just one minute, to wonder what it feels like to sit alone, to belong nowhere, to feel unconnected to other parents nearby? We tell our children to play nice, to talk to the new student, to open their friend groups to kids who need friends. Will any of this happen if they do not see us doing the same? In Galatians 6:2 we are told to bear one another's burdens to fulfill the law of Christ. Tuning in to the pain of someone else is the first step.
Every day people quietly wander from faith. They stay home from church, pull out of community, give up trying to find a way to belong. Often, we do not even see them go. Secure in our well-established community, we don’t see a need for more friends, don’t take the risk to reach out, and miss out on so many things. We teach our children to do the very thing that we are not willing to do.
The truth is that the directions we give our children are overflowing in wisdom and grace. It is our calling to throw open our gates and live life in community with one another-- and not just with those who are familiar. We expect more from our children and we must expect more from ourselves. Extending a hand and a word of welcome, opening a seat in the bleachers or audience, all of these things give us the opportunity to share with another that which has been shared with us. If we know the wonder of being enfolded, if we have been blessed by belonging, then we must respond in kind and offer that blessing to someone else.
What would happen if we stepped out in faith? What would happen if the next time we saw someone we did not know well, we invited them to sit nearby? What would happen if we stretched the boundaries of our comfort zone to include a new face, a new story, a new family to know? Could it be that God would bless our efforts? More importantly, could it be that we would be living into what He dreams for us already?
Long ago, we knew this truth. When we were the ones sitting side-by-side with strangers in the sandbox, we knew that it was good to say “hi.” When we were little, we knew that making a new friend was fun and that feeling connected was good, and we did it because it was right and joyful. So perhaps we need to talk less and follow the lead of our children more. God will work in our willingness to be open, and we will find ourselves surprised that in offering someone a seat, we find a new place to rest. We must simply begin with saying “Hello.”
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra