Reach Out and Touch Someone

miami_package_feelthehealdetoxGod’s family is certainly not exempt from hurt, including the hurts that come from within. People in churches are just as vulnerable to unjustly criticize, gossip, neglect, and offend one another as anyone else. It’s true that God sets us apart to reflect his image to the world, but to believe Christ-followers are perfect representations of Jesus will, to say the least, lead to disappointment. What (should) set Christ-followers apart from the world is how they deal with one another to heal the hurt. Will they do the hard work it takes to unite or will they further divide into quarreling, backbiting, judgmental factions? Which will you choose? Today wraps up Healing the Hurt, a 10-post series to help hurting communities cope in biblical ways.

It’s difficult to keep a distance from somebody and touch them at the same time. Physically, it’s impossible. Emotionally, it’s nearly impossible unless you’re very good at denying emotional response and withholding compassion. Touch requires closeness, and closeness reflects relationship engagement. It’s easy to stand across the room from somebody and judge, spite, ignore, begrudge, and build a dividing wall between “us” and “them.” You can even avoid eye contact as you meet someone in the hall or pretend not to have brushed shoulders in the shifting crowd. You might be able to shake hands with a cold commitment. But what if you intentionally shake hands and make eye contact at the same time? Add a warm smile? How judgmental can you be then, regardless of what your attitude has been prior to that time?

We’re not all touchy-feeling people, and I’m certainly not suggesting a huge hug-fest in the church foyer. However, approaching someone with whom you have opposing opinions to inquire about his or her work week, family, or other concern or interest beyond the opposing opinion spurs you to stand on common ground. You may or may not be able to stand on common ground in the area of disagreement, but you can find other common ground even if it’s the simple fact that you are both Christ-followers who are passionate about seeking and following his will. Acknowledging and committing to stand on common ground helps highlight the similarities of your relationship instead of focusing on the dividing wall you’re steadily building by keeping your distance. When you build a dividing wall on the common ground you share, it’s much more difficult to stand on that same common ground!

Reach out and touch someone. It doesn’t have to be a hug. Simply rest your hand on someone’s shoulder. Gently touch someone’s arm as you ask how her week has been. As you shake someone’s hand, place your other hand over her hand and hold it for several seconds as you look into her eyes and remind her you’ve been praying for the situation. Of if you’re a natural hugger, gauge your motivation to hug. Is it simply a meaningless habit? Do your hugs really mean anything, or are they received as an obligatory handshake? Think intentionally when you reach out and touch someone. You can touch someone without much thought or purpose, but reaching out takes intention and effort.

Reaching out builds a bridge. It personalizes the relationship. When you reach out and touch someone, you’re reminded the person with whom you’re most irritated is a living, breathing person. God created her, and he loves her. He wants you to see the value he gave her, not the value you give her. When you reach out and touch someone, you also become a bit more “real” to a person. You cannot control the value someone else assigns to you, but you always have a choice to perpetuate a judgmental stereotype and assumption or invite someone into a growing relationship. Actively engage with the people with who you disagree. It’s not the easy choice, but God wants you to honor relationships.

Love each other like brothers and sisters. Give each other more honor than you want for yourselves. (Romans 12:10)

When Eye-to-Eye Seems Odd

I looked around the room and realized I was the only one with my phone out.

I’m sure others had their phones close by, but I couldn’t see them. They had set aside their phones to have conversations. They were engaged with one another. It was actually an odd thing to see. Not that I never see people set aside their phones and authentically talk with one another. It just seemed odd because seemed to be a cultural thing. It wasn’t something that was forced upon them, as if someone had them place their phones in a box when they arrived at the event. It wasn’t as if people kept their phones in their hands and glanced at them from time to time. It wasn’t as if a few were consumed in games, texts, emails, Facebook, and photos, while others ignored the same things. There were no ring tones, vibrations and beeps that interrupted the multitude of conversations going on throughout the large room.

There was only chatter.

And eye contact.

With a phone, we can avoid eye contact. We often don’t have to look down at our own phones; we think we avoid many awkward moments because someone else is on her phone. We’re often grateful we don’t have to bridge that strange silence and figure out what the right thing to say or do might be.

We might avoid some awkwardness, but we also miss out on connections and possibilities. We miss out on challenging conversations that help us grow. We miss out on opportunities to help and encourage people. We miss out on the simple complexities of eye contact and facial expressions, reminding us we are not alone in the world.

Across that room, I saw people engaged in each others lives. They didn’t all know each other, but they shared that moment in time, then another and another and another. They asked questions, shared stories, discussed issues and topics, and encouraged and helped each other. They met each other where they were in moments that would have been missed if eye contact had been averted because of the phone in the way.

We engage with whatever we focus upon. Wherever our eyes go, our mind and feet follow. We can’t focus on too many things at once, and we can’t go more than one place and engage with many people all at once.

Phones are wonderful tools, but not at the expense of people.

Choose well.

God’s Social Network

What do you “like” on Facebook?

I recently noticed someone promoting her recently created fan page with the promise, “I’ll like you if you like me!”

Perhaps she was trying to be funny, but I have to admit my first thought was, “I’m glad God’s ‘like’ isn’t so conditional!”

And then there are the posts people throw into the social networking sphere and leave those who respond wondering if the posts were made by a person. Despite follow up questions and comments, the person who originally posts doesn’t respond. It reminds me of playing softball or kickball as a child when there weren’t enough available people to make teams, so people repeatedly batted and left “ghost men” on bases to be forced around the diamond by subsequent batters. Someone posts a question or comment for their friends to read and then declare “Ghost man on Facebook!” In other words, you can respond, but I won’t acknowledge it. You’re talking to deaf ears.

I’m glad God isn’t silent. There’s no “Ghost god in heaven!”

Social networking might be frustrating at times, but it’s only because we’re networking with other people. Relationships and communications are challenging.

Our relationship and communication with God is different. We can gather a few social networking tips from God.

  1. Gather friends. Some you’ll invest in for many years. Some will be brief acquaintances. But we need each other. We were created for community.  A friend loves you all the time,   and a brother helps in time of trouble. (Proverbs 17:17)
  2. Intentionally engage. God’s will for you is not to live in a protective cocoon. You need to connect with others in ways that make a difference in your faith and the faith of others. Pray, serve, and encourage. Let us think about each other and help each other to show love and do good deeds. You should not stay away from the church meetings, as some are doing, but you should meet together and encourage each other. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
  3. Be yourself. God created you in his image, and he created you to be unique. Don’t cheat or deceive him or yourself by trying to portray yourself as less or more than you are. You made my whole being;  you formed me in my mother’s body. (Psalm 139:13)
  4. Be positive and truthful. Hold yourself to God’s standards. Refrain by letting any other standard determine how you respond. Speaking the truth with love, we will grow up in every way into Christ, who is the head. (Ephesians 4:15)

You might be heavily involved in social networking. You might be avoiding it for a variety of reasons. Whatever your choice and wherever you’re connecting, let God be your guide. Reflect him in all connections. Let his ways guide your ways.

We know that in everything God works for the good of those who love him. They are the people he called, because that was his plan.  God knew them before he made the world, and he chose them to be like his Son so that Jesus would be the firstborn of many brothers and sisters. (Romans 8:28-29)