In our kitchen we have a large set of windows overlooking our quiet (when the motorcycles aren’t in season) tree-lined street. I spend a great deal of the day standing, looking out these windows, as I make the kids’ lunches, fix dinner, and do a hundred other small daily tasks. It’s strange that such a beautiful view, at least in the summer, causes me such vexation. You see, two of my good friends (and their swarm of kids with whom my swarm of kids greatly enjoy playing) live almost directly across from these windows and right next to each other. Between us is a church parking lot that functions as a demilitarized zone for the swarm and their roller blades, bikes and tricycles. It is rare that a day passes without me watching one of the kids dash across the street to see if someone can play.
What a blessing, right? Funny how human beings have a talent for taking every blessing and twisting it into a curse. Because while I often smile as I watch my kid’s mad dash toward friendship, there are other times, more often that I care to admit, that I stand on tiptoe to make sure I’m not being left out of anything fun. A recent phone conversation with a friend proved the absolute absurdity of my paranoia. The conversation began innocently enough, as we were discussing carpooling for school. Yet despite the relative unimportance of the topic, I could tell both of us were tense and a bit defensive. You see, carpooling is a very political subject, demanding a great deal of diplomacy and tact, a bit like joining NATO. You are either in and therefore recognized as a “player,” one of the inner circle and worthy of being entrusted with someone else’s offspring, or you are out and left to fend for yourself among the lesser alliances with lesser known acronyms like the IBSA Dialogue Forum or the International Black Sea Club. Finally, I confessed to feeling a bit like a middle schooler and admitted that I was afraid of presuming too much and being left out of the loop in my friend’s plans. She quickly affirmed my value as a friend, and I suddenly felt like I had someone to sit beside me at lunch for the rest of my life. (What is a more likely place for humiliation than a large room full of adolescences balancing trays of food and desperately trying not to look desperate?)
What followed was an honest and refreshing tête-à-tête about how often we feel isolated and excluded from the social circles revolving around us in a seemingly endless chain of play dates and sleepovers. The irony was that I felt this way about this very friend. As she expressed her longing for true community and a sense of belonging, I heard my own voice (only I normally just talk to myself or Jim, if he is unlucky enough to answer his office phone at the wrong time). The more I listened, the more I felt something click in my head about my own views on community. I realized that however I try to disguise it by dressing it up in language about the “body of Christ,” what I really mean when I talk about community is a place where I feel completely comfortable. Though I talk about wanting to serve others and support and encourage them, what I am really looking for is others who will serve and support me. And if they think I am fun, like my cooking, and greatly admire my parenting skills, that’s great too. I am not looking for community; I am looking for an entourage. And as I sat there looking out my windows, my mind came to rest on Jesus. What an entourage He had! The disciples were not exactly prestige friends, and I feel quite certain they weren’t in the elite carpool. Christ had something to offer them, not the other way around. He chose friends who needed friends.
I suddenly saw the vicious cycle I was in. Thinking only of myself just magnified each perceived slight, which made me think about myself more, and so on. The irony is that when I die to self and let go of my firm grim on self-interest, it is in that moment I find peace. When I am only looking out for myself, I am all I see. (This experience is a bit like looking too closely at one’s reflection in the glare of the dressing room mirror. Absolutely no good can come of it.) I have been standing at the window looking out for myself when all the while I should have been looking out for opportunities to serve. The contentment that I feel in the presence of others does not come from thinking about myself. It’s when I look to the needs of others that I cure my loneliness. The isolation Jesus experienced every day of His life on earth and especially on the cross wasn’t cured by gathering to Himself the best and the brightest. It was through His ultimate sacrifice for our sake that He restored fellowship with His Father, for Himself as well as for ourselves. The community of heaven awaits me if I am willing to lay down my life. God placed me in front of a window looking out, not in front of a mirror looking in.