I love to people watch; to sit and observe how people interact. Their body language, verbal communication, how they handle the intricate details of human interaction: all of these things intrigue me. There are so many variables and unknowns when we come face-to-face with another human being, that it can be awkward, intimidating, challenging, and even terrifying for some. It’s part of why I studied sociology in college: the shared experience, the successes and failures of human contact and those relationships, is something that we all have related to each other. Regardless of the depth of our relationship, each interaction leaves an imprint, and just as a tiny drop of rain leaves no visible mark on a stone, yet millions of tiny drops will erode and change the shape and texture of the stone, our lives are forever changed by each and every interaction. You never know how big of a drop you may leave on someone else’s stone, or they may leave on yours. Human contact – relationship – is vital to our experience on Earth. Even the Biblical account of Creation acknowledges this: God says that it is not good for man to be alone (Gen 2:18). We belong in relationship, in community.
And yet, so many of us struggle with this, or worse, get it completely wrong.
One of my favorite social experiments is the random high five.This (highly scientific) test requires a populated social setting, and at least one adequately functioning upper appendage (for you laymen, that would be an arm and a hand). I started off doing this in bars in college when we would go out with friends, simply enjoying each other’s company and having fun (and occasionally headbutting game hunting trophies while utilizing ill-advised routes to the rest room). The test is this: as a random stranger walks by, you simply acknowledge them with eye contact, smile, and put your hand up for a high five. The results of the test are, quite literally, in their hands.
I know that some people are already cringing at just the thought of this experience.
The high five: one of the simplest, most universal gestures of goodwill in human existence. We teach this to our children before they are out of diapers. We expect our sports teams to line up and exchange this gesture after even the most heated contests. It is not unreasonable to assume that everyone should know how to recognize and execute a simple high five. But there have been many times in which I have been left hand in the air, and only given looks of confusion, hesitation, and even scorn.
And if there are those that recoil at the thought of exchanging an international sign of friendship and peace, are we really that surprised at the state of the world today?
Many of us have withdrawn from one another. Many of us look upon our brother or sister with skepticism, fear, contempt, and even hatred. While I recognize that there are many valid causes of social anxiety and fear (and I passionately encourage you to seek counseling and help to soothe the wounds of a broken world), many of us hide behind false identities of introversion and awkwardness to avoid an act for which I believe we were created. We retreat from human interaction out of fear and brokenness, and when the moment comes in which we need help, compassion, and company from our friends and family, it does not come; and we wonder where everyone is. And out of hurt and abandonment, we retreat even more. This is the lie of isolation.
It is not good for us to be alone.
A little over a year ago, we began the process of uprooting our entire comfortable life. We believed (and very much still believe) that God was calling us to a new adventure in a new place. Amidst the entrance of a newborn baby into our world, we left behind satisfying careers, sold our home, and moved to a place with which we had no prior connection to begin a new community of Christ-believers. To say that this has been intimidating and challenging would be a huge understatement. Yet we find ourselves, at a time when loneliness and isolation are readily accessible, surrounded by community. I truly believe that God has provided for us in our need, but just as his provision increases, our responsibility to steward and to act on that provision has increased as well. I now have an obligation to reach out, to extend the hand of goodwill to my neighbor, and to share with them all that God has given me.
Don’t get me wrong, I still have plenty of struggles reaching out to those around me. I get it wrong. A LOT. God is constantly challenging me and my understanding of how to best love my neighbor. But I can say this, my goal is not to conform my neighbor to my own standards, or even to my own understanding of God. I will never preach an exclusionary Gospel. All are welcome. The Lord has shown me that, many times, His ways run counter to the ways that are familiar and comfortable to me. My faith is no longer comfortable for me. He is my comfort, even when my circumstances – my life – are uncomfortable. I would claim Christ and rather live a flawed life marked by compassion and community than judgment and separation.
It is not good for you to be alone. Your community is out there, waiting for you to reach out. Maybe you can be the drop that smooths the stone. Maybe the connection you crave is relative to your commitment to relationship. Maybe God is calling you to new community and connection, and it’s stressful and terrifying and new.
Maybe it all starts with something simple.
Like a high five.