Knowing and Being Known: How Our Conversations Can Strengthen the Body of Christ

A wise, wonderful lady in my church, when leading Sunday School, has a thing she says when asking for prayer requests.

“Right now, I don’t want to hear about your uncle’s broken leg or your neighbor’s friend who needs a job. Not that I don’t care about those people, or that you shouldn’t be praying for them! — but I want to know how we can pray for you. We are all carrying burdens, friends; let’s bear them together.”

For this, and for many other reasons, I love her.

• • • • • • • • •

Introverts such as myself notoriously despise small talk. We’re terrible at it, and attempting it quickly drains us of our energy, our brain cells, and eventually our will to live — but more importantly, it feels pointless: dithering on endlessly about forgettable topics when life, and people, are so much more beautiful and fascinating than what kind of carpet we’re installing in our new homes or when we’re taking our next vacation.

“But it’s necessary,” people say. “It’s part of getting to know somebody, so it’s just a skill we all need to develop.” Well, I’ve already said once that that’s baloney, and in the intervening years, nobody has proven me wrong. Some people excel at it, and even seem to enjoy it (!), but for those of us who handle small talk as deftly as a chicken trying to play piano, it simply doesn’t work.

Here’s the truth — for those of us who struggle with ice-breaking and for those who never saw a social situation they couldn’t handle: every one of us wants to be known. Moreover, every one of us bears burdens that usually lurk, hidden, behind our casual conversations and our affirmations that oh yes, things are pretty good. I’m increasingly convinced that these surface-level interactions aren’t just awkward and boring (though they certainly ARE those things); they are a disservice to those we talk to — a missed opportunity to truly meet people where they are and start to really know them. In “The Weight of Glory,” C. S. Lewis describes the sacred responsibility we each have as we mingle with the people God places in our paths:

The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it…It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.

It might border on the ridiculous to suggest that, in the spirit of taking Lewis’s words to heart, we start asking cashiers, while we’re paying for our groceries, what keeps them awake at night…or querying about the secret emotional wounds of the guests at our nephews’ and nieces’ birthday parties…or asking people in elevators about their most cherished dreams. That would be exhausting, and a little creepy. But I don’t think it’s at all ridiculous to suggest that, when amongst people we see often, or have known for a while, we try to go a little deeper.

My wise, wonderful friend understands, when she urges us to be transparent with one another, that members of the body of Christ should not try to function in isolation; that, as Paul says, “if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; [and] if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). We are not meant to carry our burdens alone…or to leave others to carry their burdens alone.

When you encourage a brother or sister in the Lord; when you learn how you can lighten that person’s load; when you simply engage in a conversation wherein you find out what kind of thoughts occupy his or her mind — you are helping to strengthen the living, breathing body of Christ.

When you do the same for somebody who doesn’t know the Lord? You give that person a glimpse of what Jesus’ love is like.

Imagine how beautiful it would be if each of us internalized the message of 1 Corinthians 12 — if somebody is suffering, then it affects all of us, whether we realize it or not — and took seriously the oft-repeated instruction to bear one another’s burdens. Instead of small talk, and prayer time that leaves us feeling disconnected and isolated, we would come away from times of fellowship with an awakened sensitivity to the deep needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ, and a renewed commitment to bringing their cares before our great and loving God.

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