“I can’t believe that you let me sign your table the first time I came to your house for dinner. I’m surprised that you don’t want to be sure that I’m going to come back.”
“Of course!” I replied, “Everyone who shares a meal with us at our table is invited to sign it regardless of whether you come one time or for years. Signing our table isn’t an invitation that you have to earn.”
I continue to ponder this conversation that I shared with a lovely young woman standing on my candlelit patio a couple of weeks ago.
We all feel this way some times, or a lot of the time. That we don’t deserve someone’s offering of time or kindness or grace unless we have somehow earned it.
But community doesn’t flourish under a system of even exchanges.
Community at it’s best is created when we share friendship and care for each other regardless of whether or not it’s been earned by the time or efforts invested.
And I’m beginning to see that one of the greatest reasons that community has grown to be so significant in my life is because I’m willing to ask for and accept help in meaningful – and sometimes extravagant – ways from people who I haven’t necessarily spent a ton of social time with.
During my darkest seasons I’ve reached out to people who have walked through similar circumstances, as well as to people whom I admire for how they live their life – regardless of how much time we’ve invested in a reciprocal relationship.
These walks and coffee dates have grown into a handful of kindred friendships that are closely bound into the fabric of my life even though they aren’t necessarily the people that I socialize with. The amount of time we’ve spent together isn’t nearly as significant as the depth of meaningful life moments we’ve shared.
I think this is what God intended when he established his Church. Not to be merely a house of prayer, worship, and teaching, as well as a social club that fills our calendars with activities. But also to be a place where we can reach out to others and say I’m sinking in a storm that is raging around me and I need a few trusted people to throw me a life preserver so I can keep my head above the deepening waters.
I too am guilty of smiling on Sunday morning and saying “Good. Thanks.” in response to the greeting of, “How are you doing?” even when my whole world feels like it’s falling apart. Or even worse, I’ve stayed home from church just because I can’t handle the angst of that scenario when I know the expression in my eyes will likely betray the facade I want to present.
The truth is that I don’t want to talk about my problems to everyone at church, and there’s a boundary in there that’s healthy and honors the people who are driving the narrative of my hardest stories.
But that necessary boundary is also balanced with the value of telling a few people at church what’s really going on in my life and asking them to come along side and help me. These ladies are now a beloved part of “My People” not because we hang out all the time, but because they are among my lifelines when life is hard. What a gift.
There’s a difference between being a receiver and a taker. And I wonder if too often we get them confused.
Taking is getting something into my possession by force. I don’t ever want to be a taker.
But receiving is Receiving care and kindness and help is beautiful. And the love I receive through My People is why I can feel strong, confident, joy-filled, and hopeful in all circumstances.
I think there are more people around us in our community willing to offer help than we realize when we are wounded or sad or scared. We unnecessarily limit the pool of support around us when we pre-decide that we haven’t shared enough life with someone in our community or our church to ask them to come along side us – especially when we know that person possesses the wisdom that we need because they’ve already been walking on a similar road before we got there.
I don’t try and carry life by myself. It’s far too heavy. I carry it with my people. And not just the ones who I given enough too that I feel like it’s okay to ask for their support. That circle would be too small to hold some of the burdens that have troubled me. Life has required me to reach out to people who aren’t in my closest circle and their response has been overwhelmingly grace-filled.
And that has made all the difference in my response these days when someone asks me, “How are you doing?” And I smile and say truthfully, “Really good. Thanks. How are you?”