“You’ll enjoy it. You’ve been excited for this talk since you heard about it. You don’t go out much…you really should go out tonight.”
This wasn’t me trying to convince a friend to go out. This was me trying to convince myself to go out last night for a theology talk at a bar. Shouldn’t be that hard of a sell except I have one little quirk: sometimes my introvert takes over. Going to bed early or spending the night at home reading or doing some needed homework sounded like lovely alternatives to going out to talk to people.
Introverts like social interactions (humans are social beings…and introverts are humans), but it doesn’t take much for me to prefer a quiet evening. Or at least just a few friends and not a potentially crowded room where I would engage in the ever-hated small talk. But I did it. I went. Initially, I was annoyed that I was an introvert and it took so much convince myself to go out. But, gradually, I forgot about it and enjoyed the evening.
When I got home, I listened to a voicemail from a friend and I had to laugh. She was telling me about how that evening she went out to a party with co-workers. For a couple days she had not been herself, but after an hour of talking to co-workers at a crowded bar, she left happier. We’re both introverts and so we get the lack of desire to do social things sometimes. But a question she posed in the voicemail resonated with me. She said, “Why, Trish, why would going and talking to my co-workers at a crowded bar change things/make me happier?” (I paraphrased it a bit, but that is the gist.)
My first thought was because we need community. On our own, we can become isolated and it can be a bit miserable to be lost inside your own head. But community brings us outside of ourselves. I was grinning as I listened to my friend ask this question because I had just experienced the fruit of being with people. It wasn’t that I was with my best friends or that it was the most fun I ever had. Rather, it was the experience of the encounter.
What is amusing to me is that the talk I attended focused around the fact that Christianity is not a set of rules but is an event, an encounter with a person. We are Christians not because we follow the Christian code of conduct (although Christ definitely asked us to live in a certain way and how we live does matter) but because we have encountered the person of Jesus Christ and have been changed because of it. This encounter with Jesus can happen through our encounter with other people. We experience the presence of God in a situation and it can seem magnificent, but it is acknowledging a truth that is constant: God is here with us. He is dwelling among us. We can find Him in one another, experiencing the same person of Jesus Christ even though He has the face of a stranger.
One of my Lenten goals/penances is to personally encounter my students more. It is so easy to have them come in, sit down, ask the class a general question about their weekend, and then launch into the subject at hand. And it is important to actually teach them something substantial. However, I have a desire to know my students. Small talk doesn’t come naturally to me, so I am making an effort to have a little conversation with different students. Today, I talked to one of my quieter students who seems to just be slipping by in the class. It isn’t that the grade is low, but the student seems to not have close friends or reach out to many people. So we talked briefly. She was one of the first ones in my classroom and we talked about her job that she was working at this weekend. In the midst of this conversation (neither very monumental nor very deep), I was struck by the encounter. It was something small, but it was something. She didn’t bare her soul to me, but she shared something about herself that I didn’t know before. We found something we had in common and we shared it with each other.
We are communal beings and in encountering each other, we can encounter Christ. That is why a trip to a noisy bar with co-workers can transform us from glum to joyful. It wasn’t where we went or even what we talked about or what we imbibed.
It was the encounter.