I grew up in a small church in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Westside Baptist wasn’t a large church, but the pastor was genuine and we were there often. Often, as in Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night.
They were good times, memorable times. Many of the moments at that church have shaped my life, and they have influenced my values and character. My mom and dad were friends with the pastor and his wife, J.R. Hearron and Margaret. We were at their house — which was next door to the church — from time to time after church, and they came to our house for dinner occasionally.
But the even better memories were of the conversations and the snapshots that are marked indelibly on my mind. We went to church early, and we stayed late so we could visit with other people, especially those with whom we didn’t have contact during the workweek.
I vividly recall the men standing outside before or after the service (many smoking a cigarette), but smiling, laughing and chatting about life. The ladies were generally inside, but huddled together, sometimes in smaller groups of five or six. They were catching up with each other as well.
The kids? Always running outside, playing tag or Red Rover or other fun games prior to (or after) church.
Beyond that, my mom and dad regularly had someone over to our house after church on Sunday night (or we would go to someone’s house). At other times, friends from church would come over to play dominos or cards (Rook was the game of the era it seemed).
I’ve been to other churches over the years (black, white, mixed congregations, various denominations) and the pictures are generally the same. Or, at least were the same.
But we’ve changed over the years. We don’t have time to hang out, visit, catch up and get to know other people. We’ve become too busy, life has become too hectic and the social media generation has trained us to be more surface-level than spend time getting to know each other.
The same is true for work relationships, work, families or even marriages.
We’re “smarter” these days, we have places to go, things to do and can’t get bogged down in the complexities of life. As a result, life surprises and even people surprise us. Many of us are more comfortable texting someone across the room than actually walking over and risk being rejected, or ignored — or worse, having to have an actual discussion about life.
When is the last time you had someone over for dinner? Or went to someone’s house for coffee? Not to a restaurant or other place away from home. Your house? Their house? Those are more personal and intimate. Sure, you can hang around after church, or meet someone at Starbucks or around the water cooler at work, but the real getting-to-know-you happens in one-on-one and smaller group times. Those are more relaxed, more casual and even more spontaneous.
Some of you will shout me down here, but in many ways, we need to remember the way some things were and learn from our memories. We need to get back to the basics of relationships.
You probably don’t know me very well. There aren’t many people who do, unfortunately. That’s partly my fault, and perhaps you haven’t talked with me much, but more significantly, it’s a result of the times in which we live.
We invited a couple over to our house recently, and it was quite refreshing. We didn’t watch a movie, didn’t play cards or dominos, but we ate dinner, never left the table and talked for the better part of three-plus hours. We were already friends, but this was different. Quite frankly, we know Sheldon and Salena better now, and they understand more about us as well.
Life should be a conversation, life should be an experience, a participation and an ongoing series of growing encounters, not merely an acquaintance or association. We need to get back to the basics of relationships, good, old-fashioned conversation and genuine interest.
How many times have you said this to someone recently: “It’s been a while since we’ve talked and I wish it was under different circumstances.” Perhaps you renewed acquaintances at a funeral, through a legal matter, hospital visit or some other life occurrence, but all too often we gather to visit in strained or forced circumstances.
We need to get back to the basics of relationships. Texts are misunderstood, social media encourages short bursts and quick interactions and even visits at work or church these days foster superficial conversations and shallow relationships.
Here’s the challenge in the midst of all the uncertainty and confusion in our world today: Go old school and invite someone to your home. Don’t plan the evening, just enjoy one another’s company. Ask questions about their background, where they grew up, what their neighborhood was like, what they wanted to be when they grew up.
Then, listen. Don’t prepare for your next question and don’t set up a “yeah, but…” Just listen. You’ll hear a lot, and you’ll likely learn quite a bit. You’ll find common ground, shared interests and common goals. And, perhaps you’ll discover new things, new interests and learn how you can be a friend to someone else.
Want a friend? Be a friend. Want someone to help you? Help someone. Need someone to talk to? Listen to someone else. In other words, it’s merely the sowing and reaping concept. Sow what you need.
As Zig Ziglar says: “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.” Now that may sound a bit manipulative, but once you begin to use the principle, you’ll become more interested in helping others.
Start here: Hang around after church and chat. Go to the cafeteria at work and find someone to visit with.
Take the challenge today! Find someone different than you, ask a lot of questions, listen and watch your life change. It’s time to get back to the basics of relationships, good, old-fashioned conversation and genuine interest.