We tend to be drawn to people who are just like us. And I’m not always convinced that that’s anything we need to feel guilty about. I love being outdoors- therefore, I tend to enjoy hanging out with people that also enjoy being outdoors. Makes sense. We have stuff to talk about, we’ve experienced similar things. All well and good. But lately I’ve been so thankful that I have the opportunity to dwell in some non-homogeneous settings. It’s bringing me life in some cool ways, and I’m becoming more and more convinced of it’s necessity for healthy personal and spiritual growth. That might be a complete article in itself, but I want to tell you a quick story of how amazed I was this past weekend by some exceptional friends who are in a completely different life stage than we are.
We don’t give people in their early to mid-twenties enough credit sometimes. That might be because many of us look back at our early twenties, and well, we might not have deserved a whole lot of credit. Statistics fly around all over the place about how self-centered the emerging generations are, how it’s all about them, how they are the consumer generation. But I know some people that aren’t.
I lead a church that flies on two wings- we have celebration gatherings, (“church services” to those who aren’t hip to our lingo) and then we have smaller communities- often around 20 people, with lots of kids and chaos, with whom we eat regularly, serve alongside, talk about life, pray, laugh, and learn the way of Jesus. For the community that we host in our house, about half of us have young kids. Not young, cute, sit-quietly-and-read-a-book kids (except Cason, THANK GOD for her!!!). No, I’m talking about shriek, run-down-the-hallway, jump-on-your-head-and-rip-your-hair-out, laughing-as-you-bleed kids. Mine tend to lead the way. Ok, they’re not that bad, but the volume level in our house sometimes resembles a construction site, and at any moment one of the parents might have to run out because someone got bit, or peed on the carpet, or tried to climb through the cat door again. There aren’t a lot of silent, reflective moments when we’re all together. Which brings me to the other half of our little community… they do not have kids. They are singles, young adults, or have grownup kids, or other situations. Let’s be clear. They could be choosing to spend the evening at the pub or coffee shop, sipping on something craft-brewed in a relaxed atmosphere, talking about life and faith and watching the Phillies on the corner tv. But no. Each week, they voluntarily enter our chaos, holding our kids, treating them with patience, joining our experience as parents, and sometimes even bringing shrimp. And we enter theirs, reflecting on the challenges of discovering where you’re going to go and what you’re going to do in your 20s when the world is wide open, or responding to what life is like when your kids move out and the house is quiet, or journeying through the repercussions of a difficult divorce or a lonely life or losing a family member. And they are giving our children and our community an unbelievable blessing, by adding their story to ours. It’s so cool to see the beauty of our children having a bunch of big brothers and sisters and surrogate extended family, that love and play with them. This stuff takes us out of our comfort zone. In this process, as with any meaningful relationship, we begin to do something that God has done- enter into the full human experience.
This past sunday night, at any given time, our kids may have been sitting on any number of 10 different laps, crawling around, yelling, even fighting- and the community embraced them with patience, and love. As a number of the guys were praying for a bit in one of the side rooms, a couple 3 year olds barged in, yelling and chatting, and all I could think of for a moment was “I’m so sorry these poor non-parents have to deal with this craziness all the time.” But Jesus is doing something in those moments, as they smile and embrace the messiness of actually sharing life and learning to be family. I think it’s great that when someone joins us, they might get bombed by a surprise 2 year old just randomly climbing up and sitting on them. It’s breaking down barriers, I think.
And it’s not just the life stage that is different. You can be in similar life stages but be so very different in other ways. So many of us approach life and faith and big questions in different ways, and I love it. My own faith is sharpened during discussions, I am being taught to listen, to love, and to learn about people’s stories because everyone has a story to tell. And the more diverse the stories we have represented, the more things I’m learning about the diverse and beautiful world we live in, and how to love and build relationships the way that I believe Jesus would. It can be fun to hang out with people just like me- but honestly, that doesn’t compare to the things we learn and the ways that we’re blessed when we move beyond the comfort of the familiar and into the beauty of the diverse.