I may have had a sort of smallish epiphany, if epiphanies can be smallish. It was like something which had been stirring and foggy somehow became clear and still.
I'm a teacher. And I hear stories every day. Stories about girls and stories about boys. Stories about moms and stories about dads. Stories about friends and stories about drama. A lot of stories. But there's something different when I hear the story behind the kid who sits in that seat right there. Or the story which makes that kids's hoodie and earbuds and sunglasses all of a sudden make sense. Or the story that gives meaning to the sad, bloodshot, weary eyes. These are different stories altogether.
And these are the ones which break my heart.
It started when I was part of a school workshop with 12 other staff members and 120 students. It started when I heard their stories. Or pieces of their stories. And when we talked about how we are as a whole disconnected. It started when I sat knee to knee with a boy I had never met and we had to talk to each other, maintain eye contact, and maintain our fist bump--a physical connection.
In an era of facebook and twitter and instagram and snapchat and pinterest, do we ever really have a face to face conversation with anyone anymore? Or are our conversations and meaningful interactions reduced to pinning and tweeting and liking without ever really seeing? Without ever really hearing?
And what if at the heart of all that's hard, it's this: We are disconnected. From each other. From our friends. From our kids. From our spouses. From our God. What if we have replaced the act of actually talking with virtually talking? The act of actually connecting with virtual smiley faces? And let's think about all that's missing from that. There's no eye contact, no hand holding,
no hugging, no smiling, no connection.
We were created by a loving God to be connected to others. We were created to be in community. We were never meant to go life alone. To Adam, He gave Eve because He saw a need for a partner, for community, for connection.
God saw such a need for community and connection, that He sent Jesus. Jesus as a baby. A weak and vulnerable and helpless baby, who needed Mary to care for Him and nurture Him and love Him. But Jesus lived a life of intimate community. He created the ultimate community. He walked hundreds of miles with His closest friends. He spent His time, all of it, connecting--purposefully--with others. Why? Because we need that.
And Jesus showed us how.
And really, don't we all want that. To be known. To be loved despite what you might know about me. To be loved regardless of my fears and my insecurities. To know that you'll still be right here tomorrow. To hold my hand. To give me a hug. To look in my eyes and tell me it'll be okay. To sit and watch a silly movie. To go to coffee with me. To just be. And that I'll be the same for you.
And if I'm completely honest, I think it's sometimes terrifying to really be connected, to authentically connect. To really have people know me. It's daunting to take off my masks of "Okay" and "Fine" and "Capable" and "Strong" and in so doing, announce that perhaps I am none of these things. What if you don't like the real me? What if you judge the real me? What if you reject the real me? And so we keep the masks, we keep tweeting, we keep posting status updates, we keep feeding the technological disconnect which feeds a physical disconnect so we can avoid true community.
We lean away when we should be leaning in.
I know this flies in the face of what's comfortable and what's safe and what's easy. Community is never easy. Community means we take the very real reality of being deeply hurt, because people are broken and messy, embrace it, expect it, and love hard anyway. True friendships take time. And empathy. Empathy takes commitment to walk that hard road with someone. Even if it's inconvenient or uncomfortable or painful.
Jesus did this. Every day. He stayed with his closest friends. He walked the hard road with them, metaphorically and literally. He didn't walk away when life got hard. No, he leaned in more. He loved deeper. He gave more. He met them where they were and then loved them right there. Why should we be any different? Why should we live any differently?
The littlest people in my family show me community every day. In fact, I think they live and breathe community. K and A have never known loneliness because they know each other. It's fascinating to watch them live out one of the deepest kinds of relationships as it's different than just siblings. And it's not like they are two pieces of the same person, because they clearly have their own unique ideas about life. They have never not known each other. They go to sleep hearing the other's breath.
They know what comforts each other and what pushes buttons.
And what they know about each other comes from being together.
They unconditionally accept the foibles and faults and vices in each other. A will tell me frankly, but never meanly, that K will cry to get her way. K will tell me honestly and kindly that A's hand smells because she sucks her thumb. They hug and hold hands and skip together.They love generously and fight loudly and forgive selflessly. They play alone and then together. They have community built in the warp and weft of their being.
And sometimes I envy that built in connection.
The rest of us have to work at what comes so naturally to these two.
Perhaps many of our society's problems stem from this lack of connection, physically, emotionally, spiritually. One only has to read the latest headlines to see pain and suffering. And those stories tell a sad tale of people desperately and tragically hurting others because there's an enormous deficit in their own hearts.
It's like the classmates we had in school who misbehaved because they wanted attention and any kind of attention would do, even the bad kind. I think as the age of technology and disconnect and discontent has grown so have the incidents of people hurting others, as though the only way to wage that war inside is to focus all the hurt and anger and loneliness upon someone else.
What if there was a cure? An antidote. A new beginning. A new start. A new way.
A leaning in instead of leaning away.
I was brokenhearted to meet a young lady who admitted she would often cut herself, inflict physical pain, in order to release endorphins that would then mask her internal pain. A young man admitted that he masks what's going on inside with sarcasm or anger.
And as he shared more of his story, it's apparent he has much to be angry about and much to be hurt about, but he has no one to share that with.
The common denominator:
lack of community, lack of true connections with other people.
I'll be honest. This is scary. There are broken, busted people walking everywhere and they've got no one and nothing. I'm somewhat convinced that kids are doing drugs or drinking alcohol or having sex or bullying others or bringing weapons to school or engaging in otherwise unhealthy behaviors because they have unspeakable pain and they've got no community, or the community they have is engaging in the same because they've got pain too and misery loves company. So they cover it up. They break others so they don't break. They hurt others to ease that terrible pressure and pain inside.
They hurt themselves so they don't splinter into fragments.
I think we can change this culture. I think we can change this. It's a new year.
And sure it's probably gonna bring some hard.
But perhaps it can also hold a new season of intentional connection.
It's not gonna be easy. But it is simple.
We make an effort to engage in face to face conversations. Even if it's hard. Even if it's uncomfortable. Even if it feels crazy. We lean in more.
We make an effort to reach out and offer empathy. We walk with someone on their hard road, not pass them by and wave as they muddle on. We step into the mud and mire with them. We love them there and hold their hands and love them through.
We make an effort to be real. I'm not good at creating community. It's not my forte. I can do empathy. I can do conversations. But it's harder for me to be real. To be authentic and vulnerable and real. But I'm realizing that I need community. And it's hard with kids and commitments and work and making dinner and folding laundry. But perhaps intentionally developing deeper relationships will make all that other stuff less stressful because I'll have a well to draw from.
This commitment will have to extend beyond just me though. Because there's kids who need to know Jesus loves them. And they might not get another opportunity. I might not get another opportunity. As I humbly work to cultivate deeper community in my own life it will become easier to reach out and offer that same grace to others.
There are young people everywhere. They're bagging your groceries. They're taking your order at McDonald's. They're ringing you up at Target. They're behind you getting gas. They're walking down the street in your neighborhood. They're hanging out at Starbucks.
They're slouched deep in the row in front of you at church.
And they all have a story.
They are thirsty for someone who cares about who they are and what's going on. They are hungry for someone to invest in them. They are desperate for someone to think that they matter. To care if they hurt. To ask them how they are. To walk the hard road with them. To simply care.
Remember a few years back the WWJD rage? What would Jesus do? Maybe it's not such a cliche after all. Maybe it's a good reminder when I'm trying to load my three kids in my car as the young teen helps me with my groceries to look her in they eye and take an extra 30 seconds to have a conversation with her because I'm probably gonna see her again, like next week when I come back to refill the pantry, and over time maybe our 30 seconds will grow into 2 minutes or 5 minutes and maybe she'll tell me her story and I'll encourage her and offer her love and grace and maybe Jesus will use that to plant a seed somewhere deep that will grow into a beautiful life where she loves Jesus.
Our culture is shifting away from physical connection and I don't believe that's what Jesus would do. I don't believe that's how He made us. He made us for relational living. I think technology is awesome, don't get me wrong. But it can't replace a relationship, a community, a conversation, a hug, a smile, a hand shake, a hand held, a road walked, a story heard, a heart healed.
Grace always Rises,