The conversations were real. Even intense sometimes! And we could go on for hours if nobody interrupted. Close? We were really close. But somehow I don’t remember his name. Weird! As important as he was at the time, I probably could have gotten along fine without him. Which probably explains why I jettisoned him somewhere along the way. Imaginary Friends make the preschool years just a bit more manageable. And that’s a fact.
In the intervening years, I’ve come to appreciate most of the folks who’ve crossed my path, and come to cherish the many who’ve become friends. Real friends. The kind that are anything but imaginary. Like glue. Reliable no matter what your season; no matter what messes you find yourself slogging through... always there.
At this point, I think I’m supposed to add something like, “You know what I mean.” But I won’t, because I’m learning that not everybody knows what I mean. Over the past several months, I’ve had several conversations with people whose ‘friend’ experiences aren’t like this. They watch quietly from the sidelines as others seem to make friends effortlessly and wonder what that’s like. It’s not a jealousy thing, or even envy, it’s just not something that happens for them. At least not easily.
As I’ve listened, I found out that many of them have endured some really hard stuff, but after some exploration I realized that this wasn’t necessarily the issue. Not realizing how arrogant and insensitive I was, my extroverted self wondered, sometimes out loud, if they just lacked friend-making skills... you know, “Let me show you how it’s done, it’s so easy!” (What a schmuck). The reality is that they are wired differently. And this sometimes hurts because our culture tends to attach higher value to people who are at ease in crowds and who connect easily; even in the church.
I voiced this concern a few times earlier this year in our Sunday services, worried what unintentional messages we might be sending when it came to worship experiences and church culture. I remember wondering if there were folks at FCC who were coming, watching, feigning a sense of ease or belonging, and leaving more empty or desperate than when they came. Nobody ever affirmed this directly, but that it continued gnawing at me made me think there was something to it. And there was.
The confirmation came in the form of a book recommended by my sister, Dondi, and her daughter, Austin (my niece & Word With Friends nemesis). The title was intriguing enough; “Blessed Are The Misfits,” by Brant Hansen. But it was the subtitle, “Great News for Believers Who Are Introverts, Spiritual Strugglers, or Just Feel Like They're Missing Something,” drew me in. The author, Christian talk-show host Brant Hansen, opens the book by explaining that he had never felt comfortable with modern church culture and had come to the point of assuming he was just a misfit who never would.
It’s compelling as he unpacks the ‘why’ of his disconnection, because in the reading you begin to realize that he represents a considerable number of people who either attend church but struggle deeply with not fitting in or, worse, simply move on, unable to overcome the disconnect. They often feel like there’s something wrong with them, especially when they are regularly urged to being more expressive and outgoing... “like us!”. It was hard to hear, especially since connecting has typically been easy for me. How much I didn’t understand or even care to.
I won’t attempt to tell you the rest of the story because I wouldn’t do it justice and, honestly, I’d like you to read the book, too. As I consider Jesus’ command to love God and to love others like God does, I can’t escape the sense that I’ve got some work to do. And, collectively, we have some work to do. Loving others like Jesus does will continue to challenge and stretch us to make a safe place for those who feel odd or out of sync with the way we’ve been doing it, but we’re His family and Father is calling us out. For the sake of others. For the sake of the Kingdom.