If we are to change ourselves and society, we need to understand people whose lives are very different from our own. Most of us have friends who are of the same race, speak the same language, and are of the same social class as we are. Some of us have had the same group of friends for ages; we know how they will react, what they value, whom they love.
It is a spiritual discipline to seek out people whose lives are not like ours and learn from them. Only in getting to know people whose life experience is different from ours can we really understand who we are and what we can do in the world.
Meeting someone new requires a soft heart. We may struggle to learn their name, if it is new to us. We will feel awkward, and there are liable to be some uncomfortable silences. When we meet someone from a different race, we are likely to be overly careful not to say something offensive, and end up putting our foot in our mouth. And yet, our hearts may connect in ways that we cannot completely understand. We may both be parents, or love spicy food or be neighbors on the same block, or suffer from the same disease.
Friendships with those who are different help us see the world differently. In making new friends, we have our eyes opened to different smells, different tastes, different sounds. The world will inevitably seem richer. We may find ourselves talking about things we haven’t thought about in years. We will see the old, familiar places differently.
When we make friends across generations, we often have to “translate” our experiences for the other person. Younger people see the present in light of very different past than older people. Making friends with those who are older than we are gives us access to first-hand accounts of events that we have only read about.
When we make friends across the divide of class, we may feel guilty or shamed by the disparity in income and education, but there is such great value in moving past those emotions to share what is sacred, to talk about goals and dreams and to begin to understand the limitations of both wealth and poverty.
Years ago, I was at a clergy meeting where I knew almost no one. The leader prompted us to turn to the person on our right and ask a question. The elderly African-American pastor next to me looked me up and down and said “So how come you white preachers never talk about your struggles?”He stopped me in my tracks. After a few floundering attempts, I said “I am first woman to be the pastor of this church. I worry every day that I am going to fail”. His face lit up and his smile warmed up the room. “Well, sister, now I know what to pray for!” We became friends across the divides of race and gender and denomination and age. When one of his most promising leaders went to jail, I sat with him and prayed. When I was tired and confused, I would stop by his church in a warehouse and he would pray with me. We connected across the divide. I was changed, and so was he.
If you make “making friends” a way of life, you will be the “ambassador” that God needs to be the face of Christ for someone else.
We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. – 2 Corinthians 5:20