We recently moved to a new neighborhood in which there are a lot of children of different ages who play together. They roam in a group from yard to yard like marauders through some conquered village, wielding sticks like swords. We’ve met a lot of the neighbors and in the nine months we’ve been here I know more people by name than I did in 6 years at our other house. So far it’s a much safer and quieter neighborhood. I had to smile the first time my wife called me at work and said “the neighbor kids are knocking on the door wanting the boys to come out and play. What should I do?” I struggle with the side of me that remembers the carefree times of riding bicycles around the neighborhood making forts in whatever yard we pulled into and the other part of me today that is all too aware of the world pictured on Dateline of human trafficking, abuse, and bullying. So last week when my son asked if he could play with the neighbor kids I was excited and scared all at the same time. Those feelings were quickly reinforced by the glare I received from my wife as I said “Yes. Go have fun, but stay by the house.” I gave the boys about 10 minutes and wandered into the back yard to see how things were going. Much to my surprise I found my oldest son sitting alone on the patio steps. As I got closer I could see tears in his eyes as he sat and stared at the ground. “They won’t let me play with them because I’m not wearing anything green.” He said. I understood the because it was St. Patrick’s day after all, but to him he couldn’t understand why something so trivial as the color of his clothes made a difference that he was a good person to play with or not.
It’s always breaks our heart when we see a child feeling the pains of rejection. You can see their heart break and their mind rolling over and over trying to understand “Why”. How do you respond? What do you do? It makes you want to give them ice cream, take them to Chuck E. Cheese, or buy them a whole wardrobe of green shirts so that they will never feel the rejection again. At no point does it cross your mind to walk away and say “I’ll leave him alone until he feels better”. You wouldn’t think to tell him to “get over yourself”. So at what age is it okay to respond that way? When he turns 10? 12? 18? 21? 30? Is it ever okay to respond that way? So why do we do it? Why do we see co-workers having a bad day and decide it’s best to leave them alone? Why do we avoid the creepy guy at church in the back pew? Why do we turn a blind eye to the old woman at the grocery store struggling with her cart? That loneliness that is felt by a 5 year old boy on the playground is no less real than the pain we see in so many peoples eyes everyday. 15 Million people in the United States suffer from depression; and statistics show that 1 in 33 children suffer from depression (depressionstatistics.org). These are all people who know all too well what it’s like to be on the outside
Do we become calloused to the unhappiness in the world around us because we feel overwhelmed by it? Do we assume that adults can “just handle it”? Over the past few months I’ve made a conscious effort to try to make eye contact and smile at anyone walking down the hallway or sidewalk toward me. I’ve been shocked at how many people don’t even want to look at you. They want to walk with their head down, engulfed in their world of thought. Maybe they’re going through a crisis and don’t want others to see it. Maybe they feel rejected and don’t want to face another person who might reject them as well. We’ve gotten to a place in society today where we let people think it’s better to suffer alone. And as human beings we have a greater duty to our fellow man than to just let them work it out on their own. Part of that comes down to our own willingness to express our pain and share it.
A few weeks ago as I was coming into church one of the elders was walking up at the same time.
“How are you doing?” he asked.
“I’m hanging in there” I replied.
“Really? That bad huh?”
At this point I realized that he was actually going to call me on my response and I had two options, backtrack with a simple explanation or go into the details of why I felt like I was “just hanging in there”.
“Oh, I’d just rather be home in bed this early on a Sabbath” I decided to reply, thinking that would end the conversation with his agreement that home sleeping in was always a better option.
“Not me, I’d rather be here” he answered.
This interaction gave me a lot to think about the rest of the day. My answer was an honest answer based on the week I had. I often feel like I’m just hanging in there; trying to hold on as life takes me away. I know I’m not the only person that juggles family, work, church, and social life day in and day out. And it’s not like I don’t have a choice to say “No” either. So why did I cop out with the sleeping in answer? What was I afraid of?
For a long time I’ve felt like people come to church to show people that their okay. It’s hard for people, including myself, to be honest. So many times we come home from church saying, “I really needed that sermon” or “that song really spoke to me today”. But did you share that pain and those feelings with anyone while you were there? Is it okay to share those feelings at church? If not, then where? We’re pretty good about posting our feelings on Facebook for the whole world to see. Some people only have to put a “: (“ as their status and an outpouring of sympathy and encouragement comes flooding to their wall. If we can respond so open-heartedly to an emoticon on a computer, why is it so hard to see and respond to it in real time? Why can we so easily and simply show our feelings on the world wide web, yet when we walk into church we don’t want to drag anybody down by being sad. Have you ever heard the saying “confession is good for the soul”? Well that doesn’t just have to apply to bad deeds. It works for joy, love, sadness, loneliness, etc. And here’s the funny thing, two lonely people together aren’t lonely anymore.
Just like we can connect with people whom we share interests like sports, movies, or music; we can also connect with people with whom we can share loneliness, rejection, and sadness. All of these things allow us to connect with people in a way to create stronger relationships and ultimately a better world. Dr. Karen Kissel, PhD, says “We won’t have any idea what will actually help until we connect with others and have a good sense of what their experiences are. In order to be fully present and connected with another person, we have to be willing to feel whatever comes up in our own experience.” (Huffington post 3/11/2011) Don’t let sorrow scare you from building a relationship. Let it be the catalyst to a relationship that could bloom into something beautiful.
Rejection and loneliness are powerful tools. They open the door to so many replacement forms of happiness that only lead to more rejection and loneliness. It’s a downward spiral that can start as simply as a cigarette and end as badly as suicide bombers. The promise of acceptance and happiness is all any of us want. When we see others in that state, we can take one of two steps. We can respond with apathy and an attitude that everyone has issues. Or, we can respond with action to fill the void in that person’s life with a simple smile and some empathy.