I Know Their Church Faces & Their Church Clothes But I Don’t Know Them
Shari was telling me about this podcast she enjoyed listening to – it was about a business woman who was encouraged to participate in a group with other business leaders whom she didn’t know. The purpose of the group was so that people could share their plans, ideas, concepts… and receive input, feedback, encouragement, and helpful insights.
The woman said she was surprised to have received such help and made a number of life-long friends from this group of people who would otherwise have never found their way together.
Shari said, “This is church. It’s what church does – bringing people together who wouldn’t normally be together. We open ourselves up to one another, we love and encourage and help one another, and build a number of surprising life-long friendships.”
She paused for a moment, then continued, “But not always. People aren’t always willing to open themselves up and really share with others. Some will come to church late and leave as soon as the service is over, never actually connecting with others.”
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A couple of weeks ago, I passed by a young man who has been attending our church for quite some time now. I saw him sitting off to the side, away from the action, after our 5pm service. As I walked by, it hit me: I’ve never even talked to this guy. I don’t know his name. And I felt ashamed…
Somehow I must have been justifying my closed-off-ness, my lack of welcome. The youth leaders probably know all about him. I’m certain others have welcomed him.
No. This is no excuse.
So I walked over and sat down next to him. I introduced myself, asking his name. He is Reggie from Kent. His family is from Texas. He doesn’t play Pokémon Go, but he does walk everywhere. He used to play baseball. He loves old school rap. His sister goes to our church too. He doesn’t have a job, but he needs one.
We talked for 20 minutes. That’s all it took to make the connection… 20 minutes of me being willing to slow down, sit down, open up, ask good questions, and listen.
And now I have a friend.
* * *
Last summer I read this beautifully poetic book by the Irish writer Sara Baum called Spill Simmer Falter Wither (her words for Spring Summer Fall Winter). In this book, the main character has gone to the same Catholic church for decades. One Sunday, as he leaves what he has decided would be his last mass, he reflects on the people there…
“I didn’t know these people, not really. I knew their mass faces and their mass clothes from decades of Sundays we’d worn down the kneelers together.”
Wow. This line struck me hard.
I wonder how many people leave the church with that same thought about us…
“I know their church faces and their church clothes, but I don’t know them.”
* * *
In 2 Corinthians 6.11-13, the Apostle Paul wrote,
Oh, dear Corinthian friends! We have spoken honestly with you, and are hearts are open to you. There is no lack of love on our part, but you have withheld your love from us. I am asking you to respond as if you were my own children. Open your hearts to us!
Perhaps if Paul were writing this today, he’d be saying, “Oh, dear Northwest friends! Open up… open up your hearts and your lives. Stop withholding love. Be vulnerable. Risk loving others.”
* * *
Brené Brown says, “I define vulnerability as uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. With that definition in mind, let’s think about love. Waking up every day and loving someone who may or may not love us back, whose safety we can’t ensure, who may stay in our lives or may leave without a moment’s notice, who may be loyal to the day they die or betray us tomorrow — that’s vulnerability.”
* * *
Based on my own failure to open up, and subsequent awareness of it, I finally made a friend. I’m looking forward to learning more about Reggie and sharing with him about my life.
Here’s what I’m learning from my failure:
I need to open up.
Open up to others. Share who you are. Reveal who you are – not just the image you’d like to project, but the real you.
I need to be vulnerable.
Sometimes this means tears. It means not being perfect. Not carrying on with the image that you have it all together. It means sharing not just the good but the bad. The armor and hard exterior must be laid down.
I need to risk loving.
There are no guarantees with love. But it is the way of the Kingdom. Not all of Jesus’ disciples reciprocated his love – and he knew this would be so. But he loved anyway. In fact, Jesus takes this even further by commanding us to love our enemies.
* * *
I wonder how many others are out there, like Reggie, who I need to see—not just their church face and their church clothes—but really see them… and slow myself down, enough to sit, open myself up, ask good questions, and listen.
Wonderful! I often have a hard time introducing myself to people I don’t know. I always think they won’t be interested and I worry I’ll run out of things to say or good questions to ask. Awkward. Thanks for the encouragement to just get out there and try anyway.