Perhaps you are familiar with the “empty chair” small group idea? A symbolic empty chair reminds attendees to welcome new participants. But how about applying this idea to our own lives personally?
Do you have enough “empty space” in your life that you are able to open it to a new friendship or relationship? Increasingly I’ve found that too many Christians have packed schedules with no time whatsoever for developing a new relationship with anyone – believer or unbeliever. I realize we all go through stages in our lives that are more or less busy, and I realize the importance of “boundaries.” We can’t say yes to everyone and everything! Yet, one-on-one relationships are important and if we have no time for reaching out to a lonely person or investing in a new relationship – then something has gone wrong.
Reading through the Gospels, Jesus Christ was a busy guy – traveling around teaching and healing, and frequently surrounded by crowds. Yet, Jesus also made time to get away privately and he wasn’t so busy that he didn’t have time for individuals. Surrounded by crowds, he would still notice a lonely or hurting person that needed Him. He accepted dinner invitations and took time to have conversations with people.
How about us? There are many lonely or hurting people on the fringes of church life or other areas of life. I think we can be so busy that we fail to even notice these people who need us to reach out and draw them in. We are oblivious. Or when one of these people reaches out in friendship on their own (which can take a lot of courage), we are too busy to reciprocate. We simply have no time to develop a new friendship. They have reached out to us, and we don’t reach back.
I worry about coming across too negatively, but I’m only sharing my own honest experiences. Your experiences may be different! My spouse and I have found that Christians often seem the worst culprits. Non-believers often seem to have more time for relationships. My spouse actually gave up on developing relationships with Christian men (after trying very hard to do so), and his closest friends are now non-believers. In a couple of secular groups my spouse is a part of, these guys have the time for friendship. Why not the Christians?
Perhaps as Christians we can get too busy with “good things”? We are involved in so many avenues of church work that we have no time for people – but it seems something has gone amiss if that is the case. Maybe we should cut out an area of church involvement in order to free up some time?
Church can be a very social place. Maybe our time is consumed by too many acquaintances and superficial relationships, and it would be better to cut some of the superficial ones and thus have the time to develop closer ones?
Or maybe too many Christians have been pulled in by the materialistic rat race? Scaling back to a simpler life might free up time for investing in the lives of people.
Non-believers don’t have church to occupy their time so perhaps that is one reason they have more time for friendship? They socialize at the bowling league, billiards team, or local bar. These places are their “church.” Yet, how is it that these places can sometimes create a better sense of community than the church?
I blog on this from time to time, taking different approaches. My heart aches for the truly lonely and hurting people on the fringes of life that so desperately need a friend, but slip through the cracks.