Summer time is the prime season for social gatherings and people just being out and about. Whether it’s a class reunion, neighborhood BBQ, special event fundraiser, or simply heading to the grocery store, your chances of engaging someone in conversation that you’ve just met, or haven’t seen for a while, is at an all-time high. If you don’t believe me, I invite you to come with me to the one chain grocery store we have in Port Angeles on the eve of what’s predicted to be a warm, sunny weekend. We will run into no less than a dozen familiar faces within the first ten minutes, and a simple chips and salsa run can take up to an hour!
This exact type of scenario was recently experienced by one of our team members when he took his family to the county fair. He ran into several people he hadn’t seen for a while, but what was striking was his observation of the topics that were discussed during the short exchanges. He found himself covering the same three or four things with each person he engaged with: work, family, home projects, and church. These things aren’t bad, and the conversations were perfectly normal and expected when given the short amount of time, but he made note that they felt kind of like pat answers.
What I haven’t shared yet is what I asked our group that sparked this discussion in the first place. The Holy Spirit had been prompting me all week to focus on a question: “What do you want people to know about you?” This may sound easy enough at first, but take a moment to honestly answer it, and you’ll realize it’s much harder than you think. Our mind naturally defaults to the handful of prepared answers we have filed away for those short-lived encounters we so often find ourselves in. It’s quick, easy, and it satisfies the majority of inquiries from people just looking for a quick update without getting too deep. After all, the deep, significant, and brutally honest parts of our lives take time to articulate, and we usually don’t want to go there anyway – at least in the grocery store aisle that is. It’s just like what I said in my message “The DQ Meal” a few weeks ago; we generally only share a fraction of what’s in our hearts, especially during a brief or first-time encounter. But is this healthy? I also wonder if our “pat answers” are keeping us from sharing what we are actually supposed to be declaring to the world… the one thing that people really should be learning about us.
There are two obstacles I see right off the bat that need to be addressed. First, we have to know the answer to the original question: “What do you want people to know about you?” Next, we must conquer the fear of putting that thing out into the world for people to know. It’s scary because it comes with the condition that we then must take responsibility for it once it’s spoken. Ignoring the passion inside of you, or covering it up in conversation, allows you to keep it dormant. However, once you begin to talk about it, it comes alive and needs to be nurtured and taken care of. The work and follow-through that this requires is where most people abandon ship.
In an effort to stay open and engaged with everyone watching or listening while also providing a model to learn from, I’m going to answer the question for myself. I’m also going to try and figure out a way to express it in even the most casual, short conversation if asked about myself. One final note before I begin to address the question; it may be entirely within reason that the thing you want people to know about you does include your work, family, home, or church. Like I said before, these are good and noble things. However, my goal is to go one step beyond all of this, and take a look at your purpose within these things – why are they so important to you and what is it that makes you passionate about them?
As I devoted time throughout this last week to think about the question, I realized the magnitude of what I was asking myself. In essence, it’s this: if I boiled my life down to one statement, what would it be? This truly is a brain-buster, and as I thought about it, I realized it had more to do with my legacy and less to do with what I could portray to people in a brief conversation. In fact, if life is lived according to the purpose in which God has crafted you for, I don’t think words will have to be used at all in order for the people around you to understand what you want them to know. It may sound a bit morbid, but I frequently think about what would be said at my funeral. Not as a way to somehow take pride in my accomplishments, but as a litmus test to see if I’m actually living out what God has placed inside of me. Do I walk the walk, or just talk the talk?
There is a Scripture that addresses this issue and will serve as a good precursor to how I answered the question. It is a command that Christ gave to his disciples, and it directly speaks to this idea of leaving a legacy.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35
The key concept in the midst of this that I want each of us to pay attention to is that “all men will know…if.” In this passage Jesus makes it clear that all men will know who his disciples are if they love one another. This is the phrase that must be filled in and applied to our own lives once we identify what we want people to know about us: “All people will know _____ about me, if I _____.” If the latter part, or the action step, isn’t filled in, then what we want the world to see about us will remain locked up inside of our hearts. It is important to fill in these blanks because it clearly states what our life represents as a whole, as opposed to having it be defined by what we say in a moment.
Ok, so what did I come up with for myself after all that thinking? Actually, much of what I want people to know about me is wrapped up in the Scripture for this week. I want people to know that I believe God’s love is the most powerful force on earth. Not only that, but I want people to experience it in order for them to unlock what God has placed in each of their hearts. I do this by encouraging people to dream big, by teaching about the intricacies of God’s love, and most importantly, by loving those around me without pretext – simply because He loved me first. Ok, now the really tough part, down to one statement: All people will know I’ve been transformed by God’s love, if I love like He does.
Upon trying to figure out a way to portray all of this in a short conversation, it dawned on me that even during this situation I needed action and not talk. I’m a person that loves to get to the heart of the matter while encouraging people to find out the answer to the question themselves. Therefore, my way of loving needs to be listening and asking questions. The focus is then taken off of me, and full attention is given to the one I’m engaged with at the moment. Let me fill in the blanks once again: “All people will know that I stand for love and want to encourage them to dream big, if I invest, focus, and remain present with them in their own quest for answers.”
Most people don’t feel heard in a world of everyone talking about themselves, so I’m working hard to truly listen to those speaking to me. Christ, in his infinite wisdom, answered many questions with a question as a way to refocus the person he was with back to what was happening in their heart (example – see Matthew 15:1-3).
We all know that the “bump into” at the grocery store is going to happen. There is going to be that moment when we scramble in our minds to come up with a few succinct answers to the questions that are coming: “How are you?” “What have you been up to?” “Where are you working now?” You know the ones. What I think about and dream of is this - what if we lived our lives in such a way that they were clear representations of everything we wanted people to know about us? –to the point that they don’t even have to ask! What if, through the myriad of social media outlets and all the other ways that information circulates these days, people already knew about the passion in our hearts and the things that we are living for? Perhaps then our mind could be at ease during that grocery store encounter, and our focus could turn to loving the person in front of us…just as Christ commanded in the first place.