Monday, June 15, 2009

Loving Strangers

There are times in my job where I travel a fair amount. It is kind of strange - there is no pattern to it. I can go months on end in the office and then go three or four months where I am headed somewhere at least once a week (usually only for one or two nights - thankfully). So, I find myself on trains, or in planes, or sitting in an airport, fairly regularly. All of these events have one thing in common, they put me in relatively close contact with total strangers (the person in the next seat over, or whatever). And, fairly regularly, I guess because of the close quarters and shared circumstances, these total strangers want to talk.

Usually, I have no interest in talking. I want to work, or read, or really just get to wherever I am trying to go. I have a rule in those situations. If someone insists on talking to me, they have no right to the truth. My theory is that they have no right to know why I am headed to Dallas, or what I do, or whether I have any kids, or what I think about the big news story. So, I can tell them anything. It becomes a game. I can be anyone on my way to do anything - a doctor being called in for a special consult; a budding race car driver on my way to meet with potential sponsors; a professional gambler; you get the point. There is a fair amount of danger in some of these options - suppose you accidentally pick something that the person asking knows about? Well, that usually ends the fun, but it also successfully ends the conversation that I never wanted to have in the first place.

I haven't actually played this game in some time. But, for reasons that I cannot explain, I have been thinking about it a lot. I've also been thinking about another situation that I find myself in sometimes - the reception or party where I'm not particularly interested in being there. In those circumstances, I can't really just start making things up to entertain myself - these people generally have some idea of who I am, or that I am a friend of a friend, or something. But the point is the same - I'm not feeling any connection to the people, so I find a way to avoid interaction as much as possible.

In thinking about these situations, I have come to the realization that for some reason I am making a kind of value decision. While I don't really think about it this way at the time, I am making the decision for some reason that these people are not worthy of my story or my opinion or my time or my conversation. I'm deciding that I am not going to share myself with them.

Just to type it is embarrassing. I don't think of myself like that at all.

Besides, who am I to make that decision? How do I know when something that I may say may be important to someone? Perhaps more selfishly, how do I know when someone is going to share something that turns out to be incredibly important to me? What have I missed? What opportunities for growth?

What makes it worse is that I have had some amazing interactions with total strangers - conversations that make me see things in a different way; interactions that really teach me something; challenges; unexpected views of grace. And, even with these experiences, there are times when I consciously avoid them. Sad.

We are called to be in relationship with God and with one another. We are to love each other. I now recognize that I have been avoiding that when I do the things that I have discussed above. Or perhaps more accurately, I've been wanting to control it. Wanting it - like other things - on my own terms. Rather than letting God lead, I want to be in control.

Recognizing the failure is only half of the battle. I recognize and confess that it is a form of sinful pride and a failure of faith. As I said, it has been lain upon my heart for reasons that I cannot explain, but it has been there for the last few days. I trust that I was made aware of it for a reason. I've asked forgiveness and vowed to focus on the issue and do better. I write tonight as a reminder of that.

1 comment:

Heidi said...

As another stranger you might run into somewhere, I can honestly say I am probably feeling exactly the same as you. Unfortunately, in social settings like parties (which I have to attend tonight with 300 people who not only do I not know or have anything in common with, but who also are not even Americans who speak English as their first language), we have to be somewhat social.

I try to remember there are others probably feeling as out of place and uncomfortable as I am, and I try to find those people to talk to.

I can't believe you play that game! I didn't know people actually did that! I have an entire book I am currently writing based on that very concept (and how it gets her into a very tangled web).

Too bad you know what I look like... I'd love to sit next to you on a plane and find out what comes next.

You are really a lawyer, right?