Last week my daughter Katherine had a package to deliver to a friend. But her friend had left town early so it had to be dropped off at someone else’s house. We had never met this woman before and when we were about ten minutes from her house, I suggested to Katie that she call and give a heads up. Just let the lady know we’d be there soon.
This suggestion created a sort of panic in my daughter that caught me off guard. I felt it was such a small and simple thing, yet she really, really didn’t want to do it. I think she would have rather crammed a hot poker in her eye than pull out her cell, dial the number, and have a short 60 second conversation.
At first I couldn’t understand it. But then I remembered The Funeral. The one that happened when I was about 8 years old. I remember staring (from a respectful distance, I hope) at the widower. He sat on a chair and greeted friends with a polite smile on his face and agony in his eyes. My dad walked up from behind and whispered in my ear, “Why don’t you go over there, give him a hug, and tell him you’re sorry for his loss?”
A small and simple thing, yet I really, really didn’t want to do it. It wasn’t comfortable. It felt weird. And at 8 years old, I definitely cared more about my own comfort than someone else’s…grieving or not.
But, honestly, sometimes I still feel this way. It takes a great effort for me to engage in a one-on-one conversation with someone I don’t know too well. It’s gotten easier as I age, but it’s still a struggle. Imagine my anxiety over our recent move when I had a whole new congregation full of people to meet. I wish I could be more like my husband, Nathanael. He’s a natural at striking up a conversation with a total stranger, and he never met a person he didn’t like. I told him once that he was lucky it came so easy to him. To which he replied, “It doesn’t come easy at all.”
So, if Nathanael, the peopliest of people persons, struggles with this, I guess I don’t feel so bad. And I’d be tempted to give in to my hermit tendencies were it not for one thing: The Great Commission of my Savior. Ah, yes. It’s sort of hard to “go into all the world and preach the Gospel…” if I don’t know how to manage a simple face-to-face conversation with someone.
That’s why I pushed my daughter to make that phone call, and why I push myself as well. We’ve become so comfortable with texting and facebooking and instant messaging that we don’t know how to have a real conversation anymore. I really like the Debra Mayhew who’s on facebook. She likes all kinds of things, seems really outgoing, is even funny once in a while. But I could have a gazillion facebook friends and we could always like each other’s stuff, and it wouldn’t be as real as one personal relationship that consists of face-to-face, respectable, caring, give-and-take conversation.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m thankful for my facebook connections, but I view them as kind of a springboard to a more meaningful friendship. And more than friendships, which are wonderful, Christians are called to witness. How can we do that if we never pull out of our comfort zone and take the first step? While I believe it’s possible to witness online (the Holy Spirit works miracles of faith everyday) I also think it’s more effective in person. Jesus tells us to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). That love is easily lost in online conversations which have tremendous potential to be misunderstood, and tend to spin out of control with alarming speed. And the simple fact is you’re often conversing with a complete stranger who doesn’t know you as the caring, kind, compassionate person you really are.
Abraham Lincoln once said, “If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him you are his sincere friend.” I would hope to win many to my cause, and not because I have all the answers or because I feel superior to others. Rather it’s because Christ has won me to the same cause even though I was his enemy. His love for the lost (you, me, all mankind) is that of the truest friend.
So this is me, standing behind you and whispering in your ear: Why don’t you go on over there and say hello to that person? Why don’t you offer a hug? The Great Commission can be as simple as making a new friend and opening the door to a conversation that may not only strengthen your faith, but may also save a soul.