On Monday afternoon I had time to kill. Planning to get some reading done, I went in search of a cute coffee shop where I could sit down and be productive for an hour or so. Instead of reading, however, I set my back pack aside and ended up talking to and getting to know a stranger! A casual question from me led to the man explaining the mission of that coffee shop. Rather than being a place to check in, do solitary work, and leave without speaking to anyone, this cute cafe seeks to connect random people and build community through conversation and the simple face-to-face interaction that seems a rarity today. While my hour was not productive in the usual sense, my experience that day led me to reflect on my definition of productivity.
As a planner and organizer, I like to know the specifics of a task. Thus, I often wish God would give me a rundown of His mission for me. The Lord sometimes lays out the details when asking us to do things. Other times, however, He simply directs us to love. I have a hard time with this. How can I check “simply love” off of my to-do list? What are the guidelines for successfully “loving”?
There is a line in one of my favorite songs, “City of God,” that I often sing to myself to remind me of the mission God has called me (and all of us) to. “The world is dying to be shown a place where each is loved and each is known.” Lately I have been realizing that there are not any hard and fast rules for loving. The Lord gives us freedom to carry out that mission as we see fit, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit! To know and to love His people – those are the guidelines He gives.
Back to the topic of productivity. In my mind, I am productive when I can point to results. I have succeeded at something when I can pronounce it completed with excellence. In serving God, however, I cannot “check off” bringing the Lord into a situation. I cannot “complete” relationships and I do not always see the results of my conversations or interactions with others.
This does not mean that my efforts to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading and share God with others are not worthwhile – praise the Lord! Instead, I can give glory to God in any interaction when I try to love and better get to know those around me. Jesus said that He longed for His beloved people to “become one heart and mind—
Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you, so they might be one heart and mind with us. Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me” (John 17:21-22). Loving and knowing people fosters unity, building up the Kingdom of God and a community founded on relationship.
Most likely, I will never again see my new friend from the coffee shop. That does not mean, however, that my time spent getting to know him was wasted or unproductive. Rather, it brought glory to God because our relationship-building brought a little more light and love into the world.
I have a new goal, now. Instead of wishing for specific guidelines or trying to puzzle out progress in my relationships, I will simply try to know and to love people better. Sometimes that looks like investing myself in relating to strangers, knowing I may never see them again, because those interactions make God present in a little way. It looks like simply relishing time spent with my friends, regardless of whether or not we have “deep” conversations, because even the random discussion of style preferences and the spontaneous car karaoke are marked with the love of Christ. Recently I have realized that it also looks like getting to know my sisters better so that I can relate to them with more patience and gentleness.
Christ’s request of us to know and love His people has no completion point. It matters not whether the person with whom I interact is someone I have just met or a lifetime friend – it is always worthwhile to pour myself into loving every person around me. Praise God for this simple though demanding mission and for the flexibility we have in carrying it out. Now to practice leaning continually on the Lord for the strength and creativity to never stop loving!