Conversations: On the Train from NJ to NYC
Whenever I think about why I do what I do or share with others my vision for life and ministry, I usually think about conversations I have had with others. These real life conversations are where I find my sense of calling and purpose. They also keep my faith grounded in the reality of everyday people and places.
These conversations include questions, observations, longings, stories, struggles, hopes, and dreams. They are spontaneous and occur naturally in a wide variety of settings. They are surprising and life giving, and make me a better person for having had them. When they are done, I walk away with a sense that I was made for those interactions. I experience God with us in those conversations and look forward to the next encounter.
A recent conversation with Ruth, a public relations consultant:
I was on the train traveling from New Jersey into New York City. It’s about a 45 minute commute. I spent the first part standing, chatting with my friend about a variety of random things. After a few seats opened up, my friend sat down next to a woman–later I learned her name was Ruth–who was flipping through a magazine.
The three of us began talking, at first about the trend of women wearing very high heals to work–which we all agreed seems quite uncomfortable and impractical. Then Ruth looks at me and says, “I overheard part of your conversation. May I ask, What is it you do that takes you to so many cities in the world?”
Now, I have different ways I answer this question depending on who’s asking and the level of conversation. So I gave my quick canned response: “I do leadership development throughout Latin America.”
She pushes, with genuine interest, asking just what *that* involves and who I work with. I explain I work with leaders in churches, that I’m a pastor, and explain a bit more.
She gets an inquisitive look on her face and says, “I’m not a Christian.” And then asks, “I don’t get it – why would someone like you — a young professional woman do what you do? I mean, is it your parents? Did they do that? The money can’t be good. So…?”
I smile and say something like, “For me, it’s because of my experience of God working in my life personally. I’ve also seen firsthand how people –entire families, and communities are impacted.” I say a bit more — it’s actually one of those moments I don’t remember what I said but more what I was trying to convey.
In the conversation I don’t use any Christianese. I frame things from my personal experience– what I have seen firsthand. I’m not preaching or quoting Scripture. I’m simply talking about what the Gospel looks like in everyday life using everyday language.
Ruth then says, “I think it would be really great to actually experience God in my life personally like that.”
She goes on to share that she has actually given a lot of thought to this. She tells me about how she once talked to a priest, and then fumbled trying to remember a word that confused her. It turned out to be transubstantiation –no wonder she was confused! She then tells me that her sister is in to new age and is a spiritist. Can you feel her spiritual hunger?
At one point she asked what I thought about psychological healing. I talked about how I found counseling helpful and how there is great value in what social science, etc. offers us in our journey.
The train got to Grand Central and it was a quick exit onto the next thing. As we headed out, Ruth turns to me and says, “Thank you for the good you do in the world.” I smiled and asked for her name, and as quick as she said “Ruth”, she moved on.
What struck me is this:
People are hungry for a real, personal, tangible experience with the living God.
Even in the midst of busyness, urban living, diverse religious dialogue.
And how do I converse with people? Do I bring complex religious terms or do I witness from personal experience of a living, loving, real, tangible God?
That made the conversation life-giving for both of us — and it was a glimpse into God’s kingdom for both of us.
What about you? Do you long for real tangible, transformational experience with God? Does your conversation connect with others as you share about God?