“I’m just a waitress, you know,” she said. “I never know if I quite fit in here.”
“I’m not sure I know how to discipline my kids at all. Sometimes I’m too much of a push-over, and sometimes I’m too harsh.”
“I grew up really poor – like we hardly had anything to eat. I was the ‘have not.’”
“I grew up in a strict Christian home, and it was just more about behavior and performance than about Jesus.”
I spoke to a room full of people. They were gracious and welcoming. I stood up front and laid my heart out for a room of strangers, and in return one after the other came up afterwards and shared their stories. Although from such different places, they understood those words I said about not belonging and identity crisis and not being sure how to fit in.
Because maybe, deep down, many of us are plagued with the same echo: you are not enough.
It’s an echo that resounds as we face an angry toddler and wonder, am I doing this parenting thing right at all? We hear it when we walk into a room of well-dressed folks and we suddenly realize we aren’t, and we don’t look as nice, and the car we arrived in doesn’t measure up. It repeats itself, a low hiss, as we try to imagine God’s grace in light of our mess ups.
If we’ve learned one thing over and over again in building relational bridges, it’s this:
Bridge-builders need to be approachable.
Building relational bridges means helping people know, see, and feel that they are enough in our presence. It means making people feel safe by our side.
How? We must do battle with our own insecurity if we want to be a safe person for relationships. Because the mask we show up in and show to the world may improve our image, but it scares people away. We’re called to love people, not impress them. And, to be honest, we Christians need strong shoulders to carry off the masks and baggage that’s been attached to followers of Jesus for too long. Because we don’t have it all together. We aren’t saviors. And our pointed fingers are but a distraction from the redemptive work God longs to begin in us.
Can we collectively level ourselves for the sake of a watching world who is desperate to see that brokenness can be healed, not hidden with hypocrisy?
No, it’s not comfortable but it’s the only way. It calls for honesty and humility.
Fellow bridge-builders, let’s lay aside any falseness or put-together images which may deter people. When we interact with others today, let’s look for common, level ground – ways in which we both need Jesus and reasons that we both love the Good News.
Let’s be people marked by Grace – grace from the One who makes us accepted, loved, enough.
Here’s a post I wrote on this topic in November of 2014:
It’s not always the big events or programs. Sometimes it is, but most of the time around here, it is just the everyday conversations and interactions that end up as uniquely, imperfectly divine.
Jay bought this old van. It’s big and rusty and puffs of dust exhale every time you sit on the seats. When we (he) got it, the ceiling felt was falling down around the passengers, and everything rattled an achy, brittle moan as we drove along. I was unimpressed, but Jay saw potential where I just saw a pit.
Truth is, we are always hauling extra kids around, and Jay – ever resourceful as he is – thought this inexpensive beauty would be helpful.
So, the van has been parked in our driveway, the site of its transformation. Our older kids have been working with their dad to redo it – seat covers, new ceiling lining, fixing the rust, and eventually they plan to paint it a lovely silver hue (or so I’m told).
Although I never thought I’d say “beautiful” in the same sentence as that van, I need to admit this: That van has shown me that even ugly old things can make beautiful moments…
Because, every time Jay works out in the driveway on that vehicle, neighbors stop by. They stand around, talking about family and work and kids. Life is shared, and friendships deepen.
Then, there are the kids. They climb around the van, over it and in it as Jay works. They laugh and chatter about school that day and plans for the van. The older ones learn something new about tools and vehicle repair. They try to help, but usually they just draw pictures on the van’s dusty sides and bounce the basketball off it (can’t hurt anything anyway). They enjoy each other and learn from each other.
So, I’m seeing the van with new eyes, maybe even a bit of respect.
It’s un-beautiful as ever, yet in all its humble rustiness, it lends itself to the mission of this lifestyle. It’s made us more approachable, and it’s brought about some great conversations. It has the same heartbeat, somewhere under all that dust.
Now, I see more clearly that opening our home is excellent – but sometimes it’s even more effective to meet people out on the driveway.
So, be approachable. Make it easy to be your friend. It may be an old van or something entirely different, but look for the potential opportunities to love the people around you. Share life, and share your faith in natural ways, as you go.
And, don’t overlook the common, everyday, slightly rusty tools God can use to build relationships, for His glory.
This month’s series is on being a bridge-builder. In short, it’s about how to be like certain individuals who let God show up in their words and deeds and forever changed our little family. But, it’s not a series about our story; it’s a series about how Redemption made our story useful, even valuable, in a greater story.
If Jay and I know anything about being a bridge-builder, it’s because we were the ones stuck on an island. If we understand anything about the power of meeting people where they are and standing in the gap, it’s because that’s how we were rescued – by God, through average people.