Relational Openness and Delightful Surprises

Everyone I know want the opportunity to choose their long term relationships, be it coworkers, friends, or spouse. I have notice that this desire extends to the more transitory, day to day interactions. Most of us have a tendency to orient our lives so that our interactions will be pleasant, comforting, encouraging, or inspiring. I wonder though if that is how we should live life.

I wonder if we are called to interact with, to love all the people who come across our path. Without partiality, without bias, or prejudice. Now some might say “Everyone? How can that work? I have things to do. I have people I have made a commitment to. I can’t interact with anyone who crosses my path.” But this makes me think about the parable of the good Samaritan. What distinguished the good Samaritan from the others in the story? When someone in need was in his path, he stopped and helped. The others in the parable very well might have had important things to attend to… but the circumstances, I would argue God, wanted them to update their plans, and they refused. What sort of help will you be asked to offer? I can’t say, I have confidence though, if you open your heart, God’s Spirit will lead you. I will suggest a good starting point. Ask yourself “If I was in this situation, what would I hope someone would do for me?”

The Bible is filled with admonitions about how we should love one another, how we should encourage one another. These commands are not optional. They aren’t about people we are comfortable with. They are about how we treat everyone. The people that rub us the wrong way? Love them. People who we are attracted to? Love them. People we don’t understand? Love them. People who have been kind to us? Love them.

Being open to interact with people cuts both ways. Not only is it about being open to love others, but it is being open to let others speak into our lives. We never know who God will be raising up to speak into our live, or who God will call to love us. We never know how God will get our attention, maybe it will be a talking Ass. In the book Spiritual Leadership, J. Oswald Sanders talked about how we should be prepared to take input, criticism, from anyone, even when they seemed to have bad motives. He would pray “God, show me what I can learn from this interaction”.  He was convinced that even if the issue the person brought to him was off, there was something to be learned from the interaction. I think one of the biggest mistakes we make is wanting to choose how God will speak into our lives, how we will be loved. We want to choose who and when. God wants us to be open to His work.

Going to church was very hard the first few weeks after Libby died. Just getting to a seat felt like I was walking a gauntlet. So many people seemed to feel compelled to go out of their way to talk with me, to say something. Quite frankly, it seems like a large portion of these people were moved by something, pity, guilt, obligation… whatever it was, it didn’t feel like compassion or love. These were interactions I dreaded and the preponderance of them made it hard to go to church. But there were other interactions, where I felt loved, understand, where there was deep compassion being expressed by the other person. The surprising thing was I couldn’t predict which interactions would be a blessing, and which would be hard. The most comforting interactions were not necessarily the people who knew me best or who were most like me. One of the interactions that touched me the most deeply was a gentleman who is part of our recovery ministry. I don’t know his name, I don’t think we had ever talked before. But as I walked into the church came up to me, put his arm over my shoulder and said “It’s hard. I am praying for you.” That’s it. We stood side by side for a minute, and the moment was complete. I thanked him, and then we went on our way… but my day was infinitely better. In that brief moment I knew he understood my pain and he cared for me. This was a 2 Cor 1 moment, he was comforting me with the comfort he had received. Such a blessing.

UPDATE 2023: In fact, this brief interaction carried me through several months and was a stark contrast to previously close friends who ghosted me because they didn’t know how to response. I still think about this dear man frequently, and often share how he touched my life. Alas, when I realized what a powerful blessing he has bestowed on me, he had moved out of the city and I wasn’t about to share how much I appreciated his act of compassion. I will have to wait until the Bema seat for him to know.

Do we make ourselves available to bless or be blessed by others? Recently I have been challenged to be more present in day to day life. To be looking for who God might bring across my path. So I have been trying to keep my eyes wide open. I have been trying a simple “samaritan” experiment. To make eye contact with each person that crosses my path, to smile, and to say a quick prayer for them in my heart, and see what happens. More than half the people I cross paths with outside of church don’t make eye contact. Of those who will make eye contact, less than half are comfortable with more than a glance, and of those remaining, only a fraction are comfortable returning the smile. I wonder what this says about our society. I wonder if this isn’t one way we can make a difference in this world, a small way to be salt and light. Sometimes this brief greeting and pray is all that has happen. Sometimes though, I found the circumstances, the Lord, wanted more. Some people will pause and be willing to talk. I like asking the question “On a scale of 1-10 how’s your day?” People who answer 1,2,3,8,9,10 typically have something they want to share with anyone who is open, curious, and will make the time.  Compared to the good Samaritan, my experiences during this experiment have seemed small. Providing a place for a young man to sleep and get his bearings, escorting several people who were new to our country to a destination they were having trouble finding, encouraging a new friend who is going through a very tough time. The costs haven’t been much. Feeding someone a few meals, getting sunburned arms, delaying a task by a few hours. What sort of impact have these small active had? I have no idea, but I will continue to keep my eyes open, and hold my plans loosely and love the people who cross my path.

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it

Hebrews 13:1-2 

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