She left a message on my voicemail. “Jen, I don’t know if you remember me, but we met briefly at church. Amy shared your contact info and encouraged me to reach out. Since our family recently moved to the area and our kids are about the same age, I thought maybe we could get together for some coffee.”
I don’t recall if I was having a bad day or why I responded the way I did, but I listened to the voice message and immediately made some snap judgments:
I don’t have time for this.
I don’t think our kids will be friends.
I don’t think we will be friends.
Therefore I don’t want to return the call — so I didn’t.
What a horrendous mistake. New to the area, Nancy stepped forward with such courage to make that phone call and I shut it down. Others might voice excuses for me – busy mothering season, other obligations, but let’s name it for what it was: sin. Without sugarcoating my decision, that’s incredibly painful to type. The reality? I couldn’t disrupt my own self-interests to think about what this other woman needed and to give that potential friendship the benefit of the doubt, so I ignored her request.
I lost out on four years of friendship with a woman who eventually became a ride-or-die soul sister because I didn’t return her call. Now Nancy has moved across the country. I will always regret my decision.
As I shared that experience with a group of high school girls, I looked around our retreat cabin. Representing different backgrounds, socioeconomic classes, schools, and personalities, I felt like I was leading a screenplay from the iconic movie, “Mean Girls.” The cool girls and the misfits coming together because they didn’t have a choice. It’s not the feel-good rom-com storyline we might choose but something transformative occurs when we throw aside the masks, allow the Holy Spirit to rattle our preconceived notions, and jolt any kind of judgments that might be lurking. And they were definitely lurking in that cabin.
Some of us reading this might not see ourselves in this story. But if I needed to be rattled and confronted with my own blind spots, maybe you do too. If we desire life change, especially when it comes to community and kingdom building, let’s admit that we like to stick with what’s comfortable. There’s a reason why we prefer sharing a table, a cabin, a Bible study, or a coffee date with people who look, talk, work, and live the same way that we do. We prefer the safety, sameness, the simplicity because it equals security. It’s easier.
Guess what I told the teen girls? Sameness and security – that’s a total lie. (Yes, I’m blunt like that.) Because following Jesus means getting dirty, and taking a risk – things none of us would choose. Following Jesus means asking, inviting, and receiving outside our constructed holy huddle. Outside our preferred cabin. Following Jesus means hanging around with people who we’ve deemed aren’t our kind of people. Following Jesus means crossing boundaries and cultural divides — social, racial, political, and more — knowing this is the essence of the gospel.
As Paul reminds us, “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7 ESV). Only by developing real relationships with those who are vastly different from us can we begin to address the misperceptions that persist about Christianity and the church, as well as listen to what others are really saying, even those with whom we disagree or think we have nothing in common.
I know the truth of this, but let’s be heart honest: the kinds of people Jesus hung around with on a regular basis aren’t the people with whom I’d choose to hang. Think of who was on Jesus’ invite list. Pharisees, fishermen, tax collectors. The deformed, the sick, the adulterers, the homeless, the refugees, the wanderers, the possessed, even the unclean. Risky individuals, all of them. Not someone whose phone call you’d return, yet that’s who Jesus chose to hang out with on the regular.
I asked the teen girls, “Would you have returned that call if it had been Taylor Swift? How about the popular girl at your school?”
They all agreed yes.
“What about the girl in the cafeteria who always sits by herself and just seems weird?”
After justifications, the answer was no.
Now let’s get gutsy for a minute and insert our own preferences. Whose phone call would you return? The cool Bible teacher, the social media influencer, the pastor? How about the needy lady in your church who rubs you the wrong way? The disheveled neighbor woman who makes you nervous? Do you know their story? Would you extend an invitation to them?
To live like Jesus lived means getting out of our comfort zone and taking a risk, but it’s always worth it.
And if you are one who mustered up the courage to reach out and extend an invitation, and it got shut down or worse yet, made to feel you didn’t measure up, I’m so very sorry. As someone who once ignored the call, please try again. There may be a blooming friendship waiting four years down the road.