Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Familiar Strangers

On Sunday I had the rare pleasure of about three hours driving with a friend (top down, beautiful day). She and I went to Kenya on the same trip and both share a passion for what we are part of there. In fact, we were driving to and from an organizational meeting for the US-based organization that we are forming. Most of the time when we are together for any real length of time, it is all about business - logistics for a trip; supplies; who is going; goals; dates; etc. But, on our drives on Sunday we didn't really talk all that much about Kenya, we just talked about what is going on and what we are feeling.

It was a great contrast to a phrase that our Pastor inserted into his sermon on Sunday - familiar strangers. The sermon was not directly about that point, but it was a phrase that really struck me. I wrote it down immediately. It made me kind of look around the room and think about how many people fell into that category for me. Even worse, it made me think about how few people didn't fall into that category.

Then I started carrying that phrase around with me. I've thought about it while looking around at work. I realized that the same thing is true here - most people are really nothing more than familiar strangers. I don't really know them and they don't really know me.

Why? There are people that I see most weeks at church; people that I see almost every day at the office; people I say hello to and people I talk to. But I don't really know them. At the Big Picture level, they are still strangers. What does it take to move past that? I can fall back on the pat "shared experiences" answer, but that is kind of lame. I think it takes more than that. There are a lot of people that I have spent a lot of time with and shared intense experiences with, but who I never got to know. And there are people that I hardly ever see at all, but I still feel like I know them.

I think the number one thing it takes is effort. Not that effort is enough, but it seems like a necessary first step to building the type of trust that allows people to share themselves. It is getting to the point where you are willing to take a risk and share your own vulnerabilities. It is dropping all the effort that you put forth to present an image of yourself and letting people see you. It is being honest. It is not hiding. Keeping it real.

And then working to maintain it. Making sure you have those opportunities. That you don't ignore it. That you don't lose touch or let things go by.

When you get there, the relationships are extraordinary. There is real love and caring for one another. There is a person that you can share anything with. A person that you can trust with anything. A person that can praise you and tell you when you are doing something wrong. A person that you know will always be there for you. I praise God for the gift of every one of those people in my life.

I'm finding that it is the same with God. Oh, of course He knows. There is no point in trying to hide something, but that is not the point. It is the act of affirmatively sharing it. Asking the questions. Sharing the doubts. Giving the thanks. Begging for help. Letting down your guard. Sometimes it is tempting (and easier) to try to keep Him at arm's length - a familiar stranger. "Oh sure, Jesus? Yeah, I know Him. Uh-huh." Or to ignore the relationship. To get caught up in other things. To try to figure everything out on my own, rather than going to Him. To decide that I have other stuff to do, or that I will do it later, or that I am just not feeling it, or whatever.

But, when I don't, when I get past all that, when I nurture the relationship, when I really keep it real with God - what a relationship! A friend. An advisor. Someone to share victories with (and thank for those victories). Someone to lean on when I fail. Someone to gently prod me. Someone to hold me accountable.

A relationship of love.

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