When we find ourselves outside our comfort zone in a relationship, and especially with someone whose worldview, beliefs, or opinions are different from ours, we have essentially four choices in terms of how we respond: fight, flight, freeze—or face (see the devotional for Tuesday, June 23). Three of those responses are rooted in fear; the fourth is rooted in love.
None of us sets out to be unfriendly or unwelcoming. Yet we are often reluctant to let others in, especially those who are different from us. We erect barriers to keep them at bay. But once we are aware of those barriers, and the fears that support them, we can be free to create an environment where people feel truly welcome. What are some of those barriers?
Busy-ness. Building relationships takes time; that’s a fact. But the pace of our lives wrecks our best intentions. We want to reach out to others in love…but there‘s just no time! Fact is, we barely have time for those we already know and love. Without some margins in your life, people can too often be viewed as interruptions, or even nuisances. There really is no easy way around this barrier. It will require humility and intention to slow down and make space to welcome others.
Shallowness. For most of us, our lives are full of surface-level relationships. We’ve come to see them as the norm—in the workplace, at school, with neighbors, sometimes even among friends. We may wish for deeper connections, but we’re not even sure how to get there. We may lack relational depth ourselves, or we have come to fear it, making us unable or unwilling to show vulnerability. Commit to taking one little risk every day. Not everyone will be ready to embrace a deeper relationship, so pray and watch for opportunities.
Competitiveness. When we’re afraid we won’t measure up, we often adopt a “win-lose” mentality and try to beat or outsmart others in some way. Our competitiveness comes out in conversation with spiritual seekers when we think that because we know the truth, we are somehow superior to others. Competition and comparison destroy the potential for connection and community. Be intentionally curious and open. Try to learn something from people who believe differently. Consciously choose to let go of the need to “win” before you even start a conversation.
Defensiveness. We often fear that non-Christians will judge us, misunderstand us, or look down on us for our faith. When we respond by getting defensive, it only serves to push people further away. Relax! Develop your own relationship with God so you can trust Him more. Intentionally spend time with non-believers so you can push past the stereotypes you have. Other people are full of fears and doubts, just as you are. Let God continue the work of making you a new creation!
Selfishness. If we think engaging with non-believers is too much work, we won’t do it. We often choose relationships based on what we can get, rather than what we can give. But as people who are loved by God, we’re called to serve others and model that same love to them. The cure for selfishness is to serve others. And here’s a little secret about serving selflessly—it brings joy! Serve. Volunteer. Every day, try to fill one need that you notice. You’ll be amazed what a difference it will make.
Prayer: Lord, make me aware every day of the barriers I put up that prevent me from welcoming others, and help me to overcome them. It will bring joy to me—and glory to you! Amen.