There are two innate longings in all of us: the desire to connect and the desire to make a contribution. What I'm learning is that if I simply learn to be fully present with the people that God brings across my path, cool stuff happens where these two longings in me and the folks I meet are fulfilled. Without trying too hard, community and mission happens that is not artificial, programmatic, or pushy, but fun and fulfilling. We end up practicing the second command that Jesus gave us to love our neighbor in a way that is accessible to all and transcends all barriers. I love it!
The three practices I am slowly learning as the way to be fully present with people are listening, letting go of my agenda, and allowing people to give back to me. I want to share my story from last week that illustrates these three practices.
I was minding my own business last week, going through my normal routine of working out at the YMCA when it all happened. Now anyone who knows me well knows that I'm a pretty focused person when it comes to my workouts. When I go to work out, my agenda is not to visit or chit chat with people, but work my body hard enough that my shirt is dripping with sweat. My wife always comments that I'm the sweatiest guy in the gym. This is my time to think, pray, work out any stress, do some anger management, and yes, work off some calories. Perfect multi-tasking which gives me great joy!
Well, needless to say, last week my agenda for my workout got blown out of the water. It all happened when a fella I'll call Ali, a nominal Pakistani man in his late 60's who I had met some months ago, decided to engage me in conversation. I was diligently working up a lather on the bike when I noticed Ali chatting with someone else two bikes down from me. Without any invitation, Ali moved over to the bike next to me and said, "Hi Tim! You're that priest I met a few months ago." I said, "Yes, I'm the nonreligious priest, pastor, or life coach who is learning to be a follower of Jesus." In my head I was thinking, "How can I make this short and sweet so I can get on with my workout?" Yet the Holy Spirit had other ideas.
Ali proceeded to tell me again about how six years ago his wife had been diagnosed with dementia and placed in a care facility. He shared how he had cried for two years straight because he missed and loved his wife so much. Before retiring, Ali had been a very successful geologist in the oil industry, and as far as material things go, he was not wanting. Yet he told me that all that wealth meant nothing to him because of the pain in his heart.
Then he asked me when we meet as a church community and if he could join us. He expressed how lonely he was and how he needed a place of belonging where he could tell his story, and that he would be willing to even contribute. I told him that one of the practices of our community is to encourage people to be vulnerable and then to pray for them. He said that though he wasn't ready to follow Jesus, he had no problem being in the group and joining in the discussion about Jesus. At this point, I realized that I was in the middle of a God moment and that I needed to surrender my agenda for the rest of my workout.
Ali went on to offer his home for us to meet in anytime. Then he said that to get to know us better he would like to take our whole family out for an East Indian meal at a local restaurant. I could hardly believe what I was hearing. Here was a man that even in the midst of the pain he was experiencing in his life, was willing and offering to serve and give to us. What a profound Kingdom moment for me! All it took was for me to be willing to listen, let go of my agenda, invite him into community to experience love, and accept his offer to serve and give to me. How much easier can it get?
We ended our conversation that afternoon with some hearty laughs as he asked me questions about why the book of Song of Solomon was in the Bible with all that descriptive and sensual language about the beauty of a woman. He was curious as to why 'pornography' would be in the Bible. Good question! I left that day both refreshed by how I was able to love my neighbor and receive in return, as well as convicted by how often I've missed those God moments because I haven't been fully present and aware of what God is doing around me.
I dream of communities of Jesus followers popping up all over the city, where normal everyday people take that little step of loving their neighbors and forming community and spiritual family around the lonely, the little, and the lost.
The Mosaic will be having a gathering called The Feast on Saturday May 4th, from 6-8 pm at Calgary Community Church in Montgomery, 5136 17th Ave NW. The theme will be The Art of Neighboring. You are welcome to join us as we explore this topic and hear the stories of joy and frustration from people who are exploring what it means to love their neighbor from across our city of Calgary.
A great resource on this topic of neighboring that is full of anecdotes and simple applications written by a couple of practitioners is The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door, by Jay Pathak & Dave Runyon.