Late last month I carefully packed up and drove all my belongings (too many, I worry) from Chicago to my new assignment in New England. I planned to drive by myself, rocking out to the various playlists on my iPod and making some hands-free phone calls en route.
Trying to save a little money, I had decided to drive, and to make a few stops along the way. Aside from breaking up the monotony of the highway, stopping every five or six hours put me in some cities that I haven’t been to in a while, cities like Cleveland, Scranton, and Cincinnati. All cities where I have friends. Well, I kind of have friends. In each of those cities I know people, and these people, at one point or another, used to be very good friends of mine. Now, though, they exist in my life at various levels of losing or lost-touch-ness.
As I planned my trip I did the usual thing of reaching out to a few of these formerly-very-good-friends of mine to see if they might consider meeting up for a drink or dinner to reconnect. Obviously, I did not call these friends. No, I sent a flurry of emails. I’m very busy, I told myself. Or if that didn’t work I added: I don’t have time to make these calls, and email is just so convenient. My last resort: at least it’s not a text message.
In truth, I did not call up my friends because I was more or less paralyzed by the fear-inspiring question I so often have when I contemplate reaching out to others: how long is too long to have any hope of reconnecting? Is six months too long? Is a year?
It’s a version of this question that often robs me of meaningful interactions with others I fear. And I’m the victim of robbery while worrying that these people are also conscious of the passing days, weeks, months and, yes, even years between our interactions. Surely they’re keeping score, I think, and I’m the one losing the game.
One of the friends I hoped to see lives outside of Cleveland with his wife and children. I’d lived and worked with him for two years. We went to graduate school together; I attended their wedding. And then life happened. We both moved, he began life with his family and I began working at a new job and eventually became a Jesuit and… Time passed: a lot of it. Soon it was that same question – how long is too long? – that was churning in my head after each thought of reaching out to him and we lost touch, my fear overtaking my desire for connection and friendship.
Yet when I wrote, he not only emailed me back but invited me to visit him and his family while I was passing through town. So it was that I found myself standing on the stoop of his beautiful, suburban home, a dog barking in the background, children playfully screaming inside the house.
I rang the doorbell. His wife answered the door with a great big smile on her face, almost 7 months pregnant. I didn’t even know she was pregnant! The fear welled up again: has it been too long?
My fears were decisively put to rest. As the two children clung to my legs and the boisterous dog shoved its nose into my lap, my friend and his wife filled me in on the details of their rich and busy life. We shared memories of time spent together in the past, and revealed what was going on in the lives of mutual friends, many of whom they had lost touch with as well. When the night ended I drove back to the Jesuit residence where I was staying, filled with immense gratitude for the warm welcome and gracious hospitality of my friend and his beautiful family. I can’t believe I was afraid of that, I thought. It was wonderful. And no one was keeping score.
And then I thought: this is how God is. Welcoming, curious, and filled with laughter. Tender, generous, and (most importantly) not interested in instilling fear or keeping score. In essence? Love.
My friends lovingly welcomed me into their home that evening, back into their lives, and they lovingly shared of their experiences and treasure, and lovingly inquired into my own life. So, too, does God accomplish just the same, in abundance, when I don’t allow fear to run rampant in my life, when I realize that God has not been watching the clock since the last time I prayed, or went to church, or said hello and shared what was going on in my heart.
How long is too long? My friends and I genuinely enjoyed each other’s company for an evening and I found myself wistful that I allowed so much time to pass because of the fear birthed by that harmful question, a question that is not of God, and yet a question that God has an answer to: it is never too long for us, old friends that we are, to reconnect.