Three days ago we welcomed a small addition to our family. No, not the one that’s still baking inside of Bethany… that addition will come around early December, most likely. This addition was of the feline variety. One of our Lancaster, PA friends had a young cat show up outside their house last week with no place to go, and since a cat of ours ran away the other day, she offered to drive this one down to us in Newark and give her to us. She’s beautiful, with black and tan fur, and bright green eyes and white legs and feet. We named her “Mocha.”
The first time that she was brought into our backyard, she was pretty shy and didn’t respond that well to me. It took me a good bit of time of getting close to her, petting her and letting her know we weren’t going to hurt her… and then having her run away and cautiously come back a few minutes later. The boys didn’t understand why they couldn’t just run up and tackle her. Finally, when she figured out I was safe, she started coming my way, wanting to be petted, and following me around the yard.
I left for a meeting and came back several hours later. Since I had already done the hard work of building trust, I just walked right up to Mocha to say hi. She saw me coming and sprinted back behind the shed. I was kind of annoyed. I had a great connection the first time with Mocha, and I assumed that trust had been established. Here’s the reality. Trust hasn’t really happened yet. I don’t know what her past experiences were with people. Maybe she has reasons that it takes a while to warm up, or maybe she just doesn’t know how to respond.
I want Mocha to like me. I want her to trust me. I want her to see that the only thing I desire is to welcome her into our family, to learn our rythms, and to come to the door at 7 in the morning so that I can give her some food. I want the best for her…. but she’s going to have to see me practice that for a while before she believes it. For all I know, a previous owner could have starved her, beat her, and left her with a distrust of people…. (do you see where I’m going with this?)
One of my greatest desires and purposes in life is to help other people sense genuine love and care from me… I believe that’s a reflection of the love and value that God bestows on every human, so hopefully, people will ultimately see that God is on their side, not against them or angry with them.
So naturally, as we settle into a new area, we love meeting people. But most people (I’ll admit, me included) have a bit of distrust when it comes to interacting with new people. It’s a part of the relational brokenness that so many of us deal with on one level or another. There may be some great conversations that happen, but until folks see us consistently caring, loving, welcoming, and blessing as a way of life, trust won’t be established. It doesn’t happen overnight either. We’ll have to practice these things for a while before people will start to believe that this is truly who we are. Especially since I’m a church planter. If I was my neighbor, and I knew that the family who just moved in is starting a new church, I’d probably be wondering at the end of every conversation… “Is he going to try to convert me? When will the pitch come?” Granted, I’m a bit cynical, but the reality remains: People outside of faith communities have reasons for their distrust of Christians. We’ve often not displayed the all out, no holds barred kind of love that truly offers an invitation into relationship. Too often, the invitation is to an event, or to a Bible study. Those things can be helpful, no doubt, but I believe that in Christ, the Word (God) actually become a person, and hung out with us… therefore, the word of the scripture… of God’s redemptive story winding through all of history…. should also become flesh in our lives, so that when people interact with us, they get a little glimpse of that story of redemption… they see in us a divine spark that invites them to live more deeply and fully. If people don’t believe that we genuinely love them and care, how on earth will they believe that God does? But caring about people like that is really hard… it looks a bit more like Jesus walking with his 12 disciple friends for years of ups and downs, and less like waving and smiling to a neighbor as they walk by year after year. Some of my friends have an idiom that they often use… “following Jesus is simple and hard, not easy and complicated.” I concur. It’s not as if we don’t know what Jesus did or how he lived. We just struggle to emulate it.
For me, becoming like Jesus means learning to live an ever more intentional, completely patient, constantly caring lifestyle among all those that I run into. I usually screw that up. Sometimes I wish that I could build trust instantly with people. But usually it’s more like Mocha. I’ve never written about a pet before, so pardon the rough analogy… but day by day, as we continue to remind Mocha that we’re on her side, that she’s invited to be a part of our extended family… hopefully she’ll grow to learn that the only thing we desire is for her to live well- free from fear and loneliness.
I think I want the same thing in the people I interact with every day. To be good news in their lives, wherever they’re at. To invite others into a world of hope, freedom, love. That’s what God’s reality is all about.
By the way… Mocha is finally warming up to the boys. Somehow she learned that the hugs are not meant to kill her, only to momentarily suffocate her with love. Now she’s finally learning how to dish it out as well.