Thursday, October 4, 2012

Relational Space

We were young adults, recently married, freshly graduated from college, and new to Salt Lake City. It was a time of much change and many firsts. One of those firsts was finding a church together, a place to engage with others in worship, growth, and service. Neither of us was unfamiliar with church itself, but this still felt like new territory, and a little awkward.

One day, the pastor invited himself to come visit us in our apartment. I don't remember whether I said it to him, but the voice in my head rather loudly asked: Why? I didn't remember any pastor ever doing that before. What did he want? What was he trying to accomplish? Was there a problem? Why us? And while I don't remember whether I asked out loud, I'm pretty sure he answered -- he wanted to get to know us, to hear some of our story, and to respond to whatever we might want to ask him, too.

I felt awkward about our home -- an itty-bitty apartment filled to the brim with stuff from combining our two previously-separate households. It felt cluttered and cramped, and decidedly un-beautiful. I wasn't even sure where we would all sit. And I didn't really believe that he was actually inviting himself into our home so he could get to know us; that just seemed weird. Still, he seemed nice enough, and it seemed rude to say no, so we agreed.

And that first visit? Well, I still felt kinda awkward and uncertain, but it wasn't too bad. The pastor was gracious, sitting in the old wooden chair that was offered and engaging us in conversation in that small living room. The early stages of acquaintance marked by that visit led gradually during the months and years following to deeper relationships marked by mutual respect and appreciation.

That was fifteen years ago. I had no idea then that I would eventually find myself on the other side of such interactions -- inviting myself and being invited into the lives and homes of people who ask themselves (and sometimes ask me) the same questions I had asked: What do I want? What am I aiming to accomplish? And why them?

I remember that pastor who came and engaged in conversation as if all those details which distracted me were not at all important to him. And as it turns out, those things were indeed mere details, and he was genuinely interested in getting to know us. And now, having stood in similar shoes, I understand that better. I have been privileged to get to know people in their homes and mine, in coffee shops and restaurants, in vans and cars and buses, in malls and on sidewalks, in hospitals and department stores. The place itself is not of primary importance; rather, the place is important because it is where we choose to make space for each other and engage in greater depth. Each person is so unique, with his or her own story, with threads woven also with the stories of so many others.

When I remember the awkwardness I felt as a young woman, I am sometimes tempted to simply step back from visiting to avoid causing discomfort. But, as I started learning fifteen years ago, there is much potential in those conversations, and I value the deeper relationships above the temporary relief of not taking the first step.

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