While chatting with a friend recently, we realized we both were struggling in the same area. Before we met, I was feeling so down that I planned on telling her, “Sorry I’m feeling pretty down today. Here’s why…” However, in preparing to see me, she had planned to just stuff her emotions and talk about anything except the one issue nagging her that day. As soon as we saw each other, I started to apologize for feeling kind of down and explained why. She immediately started tearing up because she had been feeling the same way! We spent our time together lamenting and praying.
Can you imagine if either of us chose to pretend we were OK when we both clearly were not? How incredibly dishonest that would have been! Due to mutual vulnerability and honesty, we were able to connect on a deeper level. We both left better for it. We felt heard, seen, and understood. We could not fix each other’s situation, but we could listen, commiserate, and pray.
We left our time together knowing we had had a real conversation. In today’s world, we think a real conversation is when someone says something rude and excuses their behavior by saying, “Just keeping it real.” Those are the exact comments that actually inhibit vulnerability, safety, and realness to occur.
I have found it increasingly difficult to not only have real conversations with people, but to have people willing to come over for dinner. “Come over for dinner” sounds like a foreign concept. But the Bible calls us to not only live and work, but to do all these things in community, together. We are to “encourage one another daily” according to Hebrews 3:13. The early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). Sounds simple, right? Just read the Bible, hang out with others, eat and pray together.
Fellowship did not simply mean hanging out, although it could. The early church was all about living life together. No one went through a struggle alone. No one succeeded without others to celebrate with them. The early church studied God’s Word and grew in their relationship with the Lord together. They strengthened each other in their faith. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).
But it just does not happen today. It makes people uncomfortable. People fear getting hurt so much that they have stopped trying to connect with others as a means of self-preservation. Maybe covid made us hard. Maybe covid made us awkward. Maybe covid actually put us in touch with our need for connection so much that some of us stopped worrying about all that and started reaching out to connect with others. Maybe this all has more to do with our culture than covid.
Whatever the cause, somewhere along the way, we were told that safe conversations meant sticking to the weather and extra-curricular activities. We were told to stay away from discussing religion, money, and politics. But that’s not what the Bible says at all! We do not have to go on living this way! We are called to community, to be fully known and fully loved. America is said to have a loneliness epidemic currently.
If you have not had a deep conversation lately, take heart. You are par for the course for most Americans. But also know that the Lord desires more for you. He desires to bring life into your everyday interactions with others. He desires you to be fully known and fully loved.
If you are ready for some real conversations, start small. Try talking about something besides the weather at the next soccer match. Try talking about something besides the food at the next meal with someone. Over time, you will get to the place, where you have a few close friends with which you can share your deepest struggles, fears, unmet desires, and dreams.
Ultimately, real conversations start with an honest interest and curiosity in getting to know the other person. Real conversations happen when we genuinely care about someone and see them as a created image bearer of God, who has some aspect of the Lord to show us. Do not try to have real conversations with people you do not like. It will not work. And take your time. The first time you meet someone might not be the best time to ask them about their Bible reading. But then again, under the right circumstances, it might be the exact best question to ask them. If they say something about anything that peeks your curiosity, run with it. Ask more questions and get excited about learning about someone else. And share about yourself along the way, even if they do not ask. I used to only ask people questions in conversations and never shared about myself, feeling like if people were interested, they would reciprocate the questions. But that’s simply not true. Even if you ask an awkward or invasive question, people still feel some obligation to answer it. However, asking you the same question is often a whole ‘nother level of intimacy and boldness most people will not feel comfortable with. Therefore, as I have learned, I encourage you to not be selfish and to share yourself. In doing so, you will have real conversations that lead to deep connections.