We recently had the privilege of having a visiting pastor from Uganda over to our home. It was the pastor’s first visit to the U.S and I was curious about his experience. I asked him: “What has been your biggest surprise about our country?” I assured him that I would not be offended by candor. His response surprised me and I have been thinking about it ever since. He said: “It seems that Americans live in a world of acquaintances.” He relayed a story that illustrated what he meant. He spoke of staying at a host family’s home on their arrival to the U.S. and having the opportunity to meet some of the members of that family’s small church group. At some point he had asked his host if they could go visit a member of that small group. The host replied, we can but I will need to call him to get his address. He was shocked that a person could call another person a friend (and be in the same small group) and not know where they live. He went on the share stories of the relative openness of Ugandan culture.
If I’m truthful his observation cut me to my heart and I haven’t quite been able to shake it. In that simple exchange he was able to summarize something I have felt, but haven’t been able to put into words. I live in a world of acquaintances. But I long for something more.
Perhaps I am an anomaly. The truth is the well that most people go to for deeper relationships is relatively dry for me. Apart from my immediate family I have no other family to speak of. I was raised by my mom and I have never met (save a short meeting with my father at age 8) any other member of my family. When my mom went to be with Jesus seven years ago, that was it. My wife is in a similar boat with most of her family though for different reasons. So it is pretty much just the Sims clan for us, though that is no small thing.
Because of my history I have clung strongly to the language of the bible. The bible oozes with the language of family. The Son of God was sent by the Father to redeem a people. Those people refer to each other as brother and sister. These words are water to a desert of a soul. My coming to Christ was so drenched with these ideas that it’s hard for me to even separate them. Christ died for me, now I have a Father and a family. I know that is the truth. I am more certain of that than I am that the sun will rise tomorrow. If I’m honest though, life with my new family is not what I expected.
To be fair in many ways it is more than I expected. The love and support that my brothers and sisters showed when our son died can hardly be put into words. I very simply have never experienced anything like it. People brought food and offered money and scrubbed our toilets and just sat with us in silence. The sum of a thousand thoughtful actions was overwhelming and unforgettable. This is precisely what I had always dreamed being in a family would be like and it shouldn’t be diminished by what I am about to say.
With the exception of certain short periods in my life, membership in the Church has felt more like belonging to a club than a family. It is for the most part a world of acquaintances (at least for me). I could count on one hand the number of people in my church that I could drive to their home without making a call for directions first. I am not laying blame here. I am just stating a fact and hoping to find some answers. Maybe this is because I don’t put out the effort; maybe I am just a bit of an ass that nobody’s really keen on being around, maybe there’s something bigger and more systemic going on. I suspect it’s some combination of all those things.
I heard someone say once about building relationships with your children: “The idea of quality time vs. quantity time is a myth, quality time can’t be planned, it just pops up in the middle of quantity time.” I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t something there. Does real family life come from scheduling “quality time” with one another, or is it birthed in the little things, the ordinary things done often. Oh how I am longing for more of the ordinary things. At this point in my life I don’t really want another bible study; I want to spend some time eating turkey with my family. Am I the only one?