Being Christian redefines the ways we interact with others.
“We Are Just Too Busy.”
These are words we often hear in the church. From balancing work schedules to helping family and friends, to making sure our kids are actually bathed and their homework is correctly completed, we live busy lives. But there is this call on our lives: to be the faithful presence of God to our communities.
How do we strike a balance getting all the things done on our “to-do” lists and reflecting the witness of God’s grace? It’s less about doing more (because let’s face it, we are too busy to do more) and more about being intentional with what we are already doing.
Romans 10:14 says this, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?”
Everyone is busy. Everyone is stressed. Everyone has struggles. Christians are not immune from life’s vicissitudes and cultural pressures as we live with our own problems and issues.
When we go to work or school, we are surrounded by people straining with their burdens. That person is struggling with their teenager. This person is dealing with aging parents. One is fighting a nagging illness. Another has financial struggles. The coworkers across the way are not succeeding in their assignments. Perhaps the manager has a uniquely dark outlook on life, work, and on humanity in general.
We live in these worlds where there seems to be permission and even pressure to add our own stresses to the mix.
It’s easy to get sucked into the vortex of “whose life is worse.” But there is another way, a better way.
Being Christian redefines the ways we interact with others.
Everyone wants to feel connected. That includes us Christians. It is the reason we are drawn into the conversations. Sometimes we view this as being honest, and not pretending our life is better. But we have to be confessional to note that we are not immune from the temptation to feel connection by comparing our lives and using a negative scale as our point of connection.
- We who follow Jesus, though, have a gift that others do not.
- We get to be part of communities of faith.
- We are privileged, as Christians, to journey together through good and difficult seasons of life.
Being part of a faith community frees us when we are in our workplaces, to imagine how we can reflect what it means to be part of such a caring community. By not adding our own struggles to the stories and words that are shared, we are then able to be present in a different way. It’s not that we don’t have issues (and certainly it’s not about giving answers), it’s just that we already have a faith community with whom we journey and this allows us space to carry some weight for others who have no such community or support system. It sets us up to be a faithful presence in practical ways.
Being Christian means we must listen.
I (Georgia) walked into Starbucks to begin my shift and a workmate met me with this statement: “Talk me out of having sex with my boyfriend.” Many ways exist today to have one’s voice heard, but fewer places seem to exist where listening occurs. We talk past one another, prepping our next comment or story while the other person is still talking. We’re so busy “communicating” that we forget to listen. So instead of giving a lecture on why sex before marriage is bad, I listened as she explained the pressure she feels to get and keep a boyfriend.
It is interesting for me (Chris) to listen to coworkers share bits and pieces of life with each other and with me. From that come opportunities to follow up with them about a family issue or a struggle with a part of the job. We have a chance to care for another. We work to find time to ask “How is life going?” for what might be a five-minute exchange. That conversation doesn’t happen without listening and being open to care.
Sometimes my question receives a simple answer – it all worked out; I’ll be okay. Sometimes people need to share about their struggles. Being a faithful presence means listening to our coworkers, realizing it may be the only moment in the day when they are actually heard.
Being Christian means we must encourage.
In actively listening we find moments to be an encouragement. This, like listening, takes practice. Always be aware of the chance to affirm a person’s humanity. Acknowledging hurt or frustration allows us to encourage the ways that a coworker is a valuable human being no matter the situation that surrounds them. Most of the time, it is not our job to point out culpability. We’re not often given permission to speak in those ways.
Recently, a coworker at the coffee shop couldn’t wait to tell me (Georgia) that she was now free from a three-year probation that required her to take a breathalyzer test before she could start her car and do so every 15 minutes while driving. Rather than being in shock of the situation and wondering what she did to get such a sentence, I gave her a big hug and said, “Way to go. I’m so excited for you.” We affirm what is good and in doing so shine a light on the ways that an individual is created in the image of God.
One of the most honest ways we can be encouraging is to remember what we heard.
Nothing is quite as encouraging as following later to check in on a person. If we feel like it is appropriate at some point, ask permission to pray for the person. Praying for someone bears witness to them that they have not been forgotten; that they actually matter to us and are not a waste of time. Being faithful witnesses means finding ways to affirm a person’s humanity and the value they innately have.
Being Christian means we must avoid gossip.
Being a faithful presence is not a gift given to some and not others. It’s a role we must learn. We are all called to this role. Not only do we practice ways of engagement, we need the disciplines necessary to be a faithful presence. One of those disciplines is learning to be okay with what we don’t know. We have to be aware of the human proclivity to know information for the sake of knowing it. Generally this is called gossip.
We have to see where our motives are to care for others. We have to ensure our motives are not a desire to gain information about other people to use for our own ends (to make ourselves feel better, to hold against them, to share with other people). If we are going to be a faithful presence, we have to carefully keep ourselves out of situations where gossip is present in order to be faithfully present in other moments.
It’s too easy to stand around the watercooler pointing fingers at who isn’t pulling their weight in the office. People will learn to trust us when they know we genuinely care about them and not just about the information we get from them.
Being Christian means we must practice humility.
Another discipline that frees us to be a faithful presence is humility. We have to understand that we cannot necessarily fix people or their situations. People may invite us into one aspect of their lives. This is not permission to jump in the middle and start giving direction. We are given permission to listen and care. And we carefully guard that role. We can’t presume we know better (even if we actually do).
Even asking permission to pray, rather than telling a person we want to pray, helps us practice humility. In the future, we may be given permission to be more engaged. Or, we may only ever serve them as the one who listens. Either way, it’s not our call. We have to be okay with that or we will we push our personal agenda – and no longer bear witness to a God who is faithfully present.
This may sound counterintuitive to those of us who grew up hearing that being a witness has everything to do with giving people answers. However, we live in a world filled with people who desperately want someone to be present.
In the places where we spend 20, 40, 60 hours a week, God is inviting us to just that role; in our faithful presence to bear witness to the One we believe is always faithfully present.
Chris and Georgia Patton co-pastor Cuyahoga Falls Church of the Nazarene in Ohio.