I used to dislike having my foods touch each other on my plate. I’d hold my fork in my right hand and use the tines to separate each item on my plate. I wanted to own a stack of plates with dividers in them so I could put the vegetables in one compartment, the protein in a different compartment, and guarantee they’d never run in to each other.
“It all gets mixed together in your belly,” a friend once told me. I knew that. But still.
Also? And, I’ll admit this is a bit strange, but when I was a little girl, I didn’t like other people touching me. Riding in a car, with three people crammed into the back seat — me in the middle between two grown-ups, with my feet on the hump in the floor, my skinny knees jutted toward the little plastic light mounted in the roof of the car. I’d wrap my arms around my knees and try to hold my little body steady over the bumps and through the turns in the road, so that my skin didn’t touch the skin of the people on either side of me.
I don’t know what my aversion was, or where I got it into my head that it was best to keep a reasonable distance. I’d have been glad to build compartments in the back seat of every car, just so I could ride down the Garden State Parkway without giving up any personal space.
It wasn’t so much about me touching others. It was more about them touching me.
If I’m being honest, I have to confess I’m like that in my grown-up life too. I like to live life in the comfort zone of my own bubble of personal space. I don’t mind reaching out to you, because that’s on my terms. But when you start reaching out to me, I begin wondering what to do with my arms and wishing I could find a polite way to say, “Um, excuse me. But do you see the bubble here around me? Did you happen to notice that it’s a boundary?”
One day, I heard someone say that each time I say “No” to a person who reaches out to me with compassion, I rob that person of the opportunity to exercise her gift. I wish I could tell you where I heard this, but I honestly can’t remember. Suffice it to say, it made an impact on me.
I started thinking about all the times someone has offered to help me by cooking a meal, running an errand, making a few phone calls, or just saying, “How can I help?” I’d hear the offer and immediately reply, “Oh, I’ve got this. Thanks for the offer, though.”
I was grateful they had offered. But I didn’t really know how to accept. I didn’t know how to say “Yes” without having the strange feeling I had revealed a chink in my armor. What’s up with that? I had to wonder to myself.
So I started paying attention. When someone offered to help me, I said, “Yes.” It sounded like one, simple, three-letter word to anyone within earshot, but on the inside, it sounded more like, I think what you’re supposed to say here is yes, and even though you have a strong inclination to do the usual thing and brush them off and try to point out the little bubble thing you’ve got going on, you really and truly ought to say… “Yes.”
Ta-da! The world kept spinning on its axis!
The ground didn’t open up and swallow me. The person asking if they could help got right to work without batting an eyelash, and I had one less thing on my crazy list of things I had to accomplish.
Me walking around with my lines drawn, my compartments established, my walls built high was keeping me far from understanding the truth about the Body of Christ. Jesus tore down all the walls we build up to keep each other at a distance. I’m the one who keeps trying to build the walls up again. You too? Sometimes, I build those walls so high, I can’t see my way to the top, and I wonder how in the world I’ll ever get out again.
On a good day, I remember Jesus telling me that He, Himself, is the Way. He’s the way through the walls I build up. So I turn the knob, swing that door wide open on hinges oiled with grace, and there you are on the other side, smiling and asking me, “How can I help?”