The Parallel Tracks

Beth Village    It’s been all over the news. Images of towns leveled, parents screaming grief for lost children, rancid flood waters slowly receding. My friends have been talking about it on social media, reminding each other to pray and give. But for me it’s personal.

Because it’s the Philippines, the place where I spent a large part of my childhood.

I have friends there. I’ve sung their songs, eaten their food, watched the sun set on their mountains, and claimed it all as my own. The images of terror and heartbreak don’t fade easily. The only people who really understand how this has shaken me are people who have been there themselves.

There’s something about having lived side-by-side, having been eyeball-to-eyeball with people that changes the way we perceive them. It’s not so easy to forget them or walk away from their suffering.

I’ve noticed something in the U.S. We are good at living parallel lives alongside the people around us, lives that occasionally intersect at church, at work, at sporting events. What we’re not so good at is entering each other’s lives.

I recently talked with Sarah, a college student in New York City who was born and raised in Tennessee. When I asked her how she deals with the cultural differences between Nashville and New York, she grinned wide and told me, “I put on black and stomp around like I’m unhappy.”

I love her humor in handling what could be major culture shock. While I’ve known some incredibly friendly and open people from the City, I understand Sarah’s response because of what I saw during the couple of weeks I spent there. Scowling people, eyes on the ground, pushing past each other to be the first wherever they were going.

I have to admit that I breathed a little easier when we rolled over the Mason Dixon line on the way home.

But, honestly, we’re just as bad in the South. It may look a little different – less shove and more sugar – but we do the same thing to each other. We have our own agendas, and we hold the people around us at arm’s length.

Railroad Tracks 2 Web   I’ll be friendly with you as long as it doesn’t require much time or effort.

    I don’t want to hear your junk, and I’m certainly not sharing mine.

And we all move forward on parallel tracks, never really seeing each other.

    This is not the way it was meant to be.

The more people I meet, the more I hear the words, “I’m lonely.” These are successful, respected people with spouses, children, church communities, and friends. But, in the deepest parts of themselves, there are needs that are not being met.

They must be missing something in their spiritual lives, right?

Perhaps, but most of these people have rich relationships with Jesus. What they need is people.

God himself lives in community, intimately connected as Father, Son, and Spirit. He even desires a relationship with every one of us.

So if living soul-intertwined with others is a desire even God has, why do we shy away from it?

Well, for one thing, it’s scary.

If we’re connected with people and vulnerable enough to have real relationships, it will be painful. Maybe we’re hurt by them. Maybe we hurt with them. Either way it hurts.

Just today, I talked with four different friends who are going through rough things. And I cried. Every time. I cried because I don’t have answers, and I can’t take away their pain, and some of them are far away enough that I can’t even hug them. That much heartache in one day has knocked me a little breathless.

So tonight I’m still a bit teary and just tired to the bone. But that’s ok, because these same women who needed to borrow some of my strength today have often lent me theirs.

   This is how community is supposed to work, I think. This give and take and passing along of the kind of hope that makes it possible to move forward.

And it’s worth it, because the same kind of connection that brings tears for another’s wounds is the kind of connection that takes our joys, combines them like rain and sun, and throws a rainbow promise against the sky, a reminder of the Eternal Tomorrow.

So let’s step off our parallel tracks, stand eyeball-to-eyeball with the people around us, and let ourselves listen and see and feel and be shaken and amazed.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Romans 12:15 (NIV)

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