“Life is very difficult, especially when you’re alone.”
These words flashed through my Facebook newsfeed and grabbed me. One of the Turkish wives I know, Alma, had written them.
Most of the comments were in Turkish, but a few of the ones in English encouraged her: “You are not alone, dear friend” … “Don’t worry, it’s life, my friend. Enjoy with a long life” … “I think the best way to avoid loneliness is pray to god” … “You are not alone. We're with you. Don't worry. Be happy.”
People were expressing their care. I couldn't let it pass, even though we didn't know one another well. Idecided to send her a message and suggest we meet up for tea. At this writing, we are still waiting to make it happen. But that is a red flag I don’t want to miss.
And yet in life, I admit, it is so hard to make the time to reach out sometimes. To love the hurting. To make ourselves available. To genuinely care.
Why should we do so? Here are 5 reasons why we should open our hearts (and schedules) to genuinely care for the “Other.”
(1) Our World is Getting Smaller
Of course, this is a cliché. Similar are the expressions, “I don’t have time,” or “time is going too fast.” If you take a moment to think what all three of these statements express, you realize they comment on a feeling or impression we have, not the actual size of the world or the existence or speed of time.
Our world seems smaller now because so much of it is captured at our fingertips, through our mobile and desktop devices, as well as our TVs. The world runs at 24/7, and we can now be a part of that (if we wish). A century ago? Not the case.
Likewise, the nations are all around us. Our classmates, our neighbors, our coworkers, shopkeepers and others with whom we interact day in and day out are often no longer “just like us.”
We have two choices: to isolate, or to connect. Which leads to the next point.
(2) Peace Begins with Me
I used to dream I’d be an ambassador. In fact, that was my career goal upon entering Stanford University as a freshman.
But somewhere along the way, I met Jesus. And, just like many in the Bible who encountered him – and the millions who still do today – it rocked my world. Turned my thinking inside out.
In time, I came to understand that being an ambassador at the heart level might have the most profound, eternal impact. After more than 20 years of a career focused on reaching out to internationals in Christ’s love, I now can see the power of that decision.
The simple song, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me” has become my heartbeat. I appreciate the universality of that song; the message is not limited by background or belief.
Indeed, it starts with me. My heart, my mind, my relationships. When these are in a right, peaceful place, the ripple effect proves powerful. When they are not, the damaging results further drag down our world.
(3) We Can Learn from One Another
Reaching out to people who are different from us in sincere care and love necessitates a spirit of humble learning. Our ways are not the right ways, just one way of doing, seeing and living. Our world expands when we open our hearts to learning from those who are unlike us.
Replacing forks with chopsticks? Living with family until married? Arranged marriages? Wearing a head covering (hijab)? Eating ox tail, cow’s blood, crickets, frog’s legs, escamole (ant larva)? Are you kidding?
Of course, not all Muslim women cover their heads, nor do all Chinese eat insects. We should steer clear of generalizations but also try get on the inside and learn why and how these practices have developed in particular cultures. As we do, we will grow in mutual understanding and appreciation for one another.
Remember – We can agree to disagree and live in harmony with each other. You do not need to cover your head nor eat insects to respect those who do. Delighting in the differences – even celebrating them – should be our goal.
(4) Something New – Even Magical – Happens
For years I have organized gatherings that have brought the nations together. Sometimes over 20 nations have gathered under one roof. Energy buzzes and laughter fills the air. The guests connect in small pockets over shared interests. New friendships emerge. Life amplifies. The sense of exhilaration proves palpable.
Although we may repeat such gatherings every week, month or quarter, each gathering represents a new occasion where at least one new relationship arises, or another goes deeper, or a discovery results.
Someone might arrive lonely, but we make every effort to reach out and help that person realize he or she is not alone. We care. Genuinely. With heart.
(5) Everyone Gains by Befriending the Stranger in Our Midst
Did you know that over 40% of today’s current world leaders have studied abroad? The U.S., UK, EU countries and Australia rank high for study destinations.
So imagine. They come and know almost no one. With few exceptions, they’re not world leaders yet. In most cases, they don’t get the red carpet treatment.
But if they feel welcomed, can you imagine how this will shape their impressions about their time living away from home for the long term?
Offering a kind smile, an extended hand and a welcome heart makes sense regardless of your life philosophy, faith values or experiences. In fact, you may be connecting with someone who one day will welcome you to his or her home in the same way. And, who knows? It could even be a presidential palace.
For Christians, befriending the stranger is biblical. In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25:34–46, Jesus speaks of how by feeding, offering drink, inviting in and clothing the stranger it was just as if they were doing it for him.
Even more, the book of Hebrews in the New Testament encourages us to “…not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”
Back to Alma...
We got together. She appreciated the effort. Nothing extraordinary was going on. Just a bout of homesickness. Feeling alone in a strange land. But reaching out to her communicated care. And she felt it. She was full of appreciation. I believe it made an impression.
I check in on Alma from time to time. Just to see how she’s doing. It’s a small act that goes a long way. This is the peace-building, mutual learning, creation of something new and the all-around gain that comes when we take a simple step outside of ourselves to befriend the others.
It is my part of making this world a better place.
How do you make this world a better place? Share with us in the comments below.
Photo credit: Andi_Graf on Pixabay