On the way into work yesterday, I was thinking about the people that I have spent time with over the last few days. Saturday was family time (running a million errands) followed by a 19th birthday celebration for a friend who just returned from spending most of his winter break in Cambodia and was about to return to college. I knew most of the people there, including our former youth pastor, from joining some high school mission trips. Sunday morning was church. On the way in, I ran into some friends that I got to know on a trip to Kenya. Sunday afternoon was football with friends that I guess we got to know through our kids. We just kind of hang out, watch football and talk about whatever. Sunday night was a concert at church - Alex, his friend Shane, and I sat with a bunch of the youth - and on the way in we ran into some other friends. Monday night was a surprise 18th birthday party for one of the guys in our small group. Again, I knew most of the people there from either one of the high school mission trips or our small group. Then a brief chance to visit with my mother-in-law.
I also thought about the people that I had not seen over the weekend, but that I try to spend as much time with as possible. Other friends, family and co-workers.
I realized that all of these people have been important in helping me grow in my faith. Supporting me. Challenging me. Teaching me. Dragging me along. Showing me. Pushing me. Listening to me. Sharing with me. Answering me. Questioning me.
About that time I found myself sitting still in traffic near the Lincoln Memorial and looking at one of the trees there. Given the time of year, it was bare of leaves, so I could really see the tree. I noticed, probably for the first time, the branches of this tree. There were a lot of them. Some reached majestically towards the sky. Others bent towards the ground. Many had been trimmed by the park service to give the tree a particular shape. Some had grown different directions over time and took the long road to where they currently end. While they were all different, they all were part of that tree and would not have been the same on their own, or as part of something different.
Even as I write I recognize that this seems forced, but I can't help how my mind works sometimes.
While I was looking at the tree and thinking about the people that I had been spending time with, I thought about how important those people all are in shaping and guiding the branches in my life. They help me to trim what needs to be trimmed. They help to re-direct what is headed the wrong way. They help me to grow.
I don't know when this happened. I'm not sure that I would have said the same thing five years ago - even though many of the people that I spend time with now are the same people that I spent time with then (though, in fairness, not the youth - they were something like 13). I wonder if our relationships have changed in some way, or whether it is just that I have only been able to recognize this for the past few years. At some level I think it is just more recently that I have reached a place where I want to discuss issues of faith with my friends and family. I've become more willing to take the risk of putting myself out there and taking a chance. I think that I always feared that religion would be a divider and would get in the way of relationships. What I have found is the opposite. Sure, people go to war over religion and there is no doubt that it can be used to divide. But, the process of sharing, questioning and exploring has helped me enormously.
A good friend and I used to do a lot of recruiting together. At some point, making fun of some stories we had heard from students about horrible interviews, we jokingly came up with the question "If you were a bird, what kind of bird would you be?" (Don't worry, we never asked it) Well, I'm changing that question. If I were a tree, I don't know exactly what kind of tree I would be, but I would be one that is still growing and is being actively shaped and tended to by a lot of people (even if they don't know it).
I apologize that this is rambling today. I leave with this thought from Proverbs: "He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm." Proverbs 13:20 Thankfully, I have people around me that are helping me to grow wise.