I've been really busy the last couple of days and haven't had much time to write. Even now I'm pretty tired - I've been spending a lot of time with people and even though I love every single one of them dearly, this much time interacting with folks makes me want an adult sized hamster ball in which I can roll around without bumping into anyone. Don't worry, I'll be fine once I've had 24 hours to reset and then I'll be up for whatever society may throw at me!
It's at times like this that I am particularly thankful for who my parents are and the ways they instilled their value of people in their children. Neither of my parents are really people persons. That may surprise some of you who know them - they are constantly surrounded by people!
My mom and dad are really different from each other. My dad is a scientist who loves academic discussion and debate, especially when it intersects with faith matters. I wouldn't (and nor would he) say that he has the most natural people skills. His mind is always off in another world, thinking thoughts. My family often jokes that he wouldn't have made it in this life without my mother to look out for him in all practical matters.
He is one of the least judgmental men I know, in the truest sense, meaning simply that he will not harm or reject you though he may strongly and harshly disagree with you. I have never known him to believe a person couldn't change and for that I respect him deeply. My dad believes every person is complex and worthy of grace. Even though he jokes about his lack of people skills or inability to enter into people's emotions, I have seen him serve those in deep distress in remarkable ways simply out of conviction of his responsibility in Christ regardless of his particular gifts.
To many, it would be shocking to think of my mom as anything but a people person. It's simply impossible to count how many women she has let cry on her shoulder. Her love for and patience with young women, and in particular young mothers, has left a mark on her community. From my best friends in college to the strangers she sits next to on planes, everyone I've ever know has loved talking to my mom. Just as we tease my dad about his absent mindedness, we tease my mother about her incredibly ability to not only strike up a conversation with anyone and everyone she meets, but to strike up such a conversation that she somehow induces them to tell her their whole life story. She always claims she doesn't do anything to induce this phenomenon, but we all know that isn't true because she's an expert at the strongest magic of all people skills - listening.
Despite all of her gifts, though, I'm not sure my mom is truly a people person. At the core of her being, in her heart, my mom is hobbit. Whenever she has a day to enjoy simply as she pleases, she gardens and piddles around the house in relative solitude, singing along to her favorite music while she cooks something truly delicious.
And this gets to what I appreciate about my parents. They are not amazing people. They are not the people who get singled out as natural movers and shakers. They are not the people who enter a room and attract people magnetically with their presence. Rather, they simply believe that people matter. And they have made conscious, sacrificial, and sometimes painful decisions according to that belief in order to make people the priority.
To my mind that is what makes a difference in this world. Living in Boston and witnessing on a daily basis communities that do not make people the priority has sobered my perspective. It's so easy for Christians to think that the most important thing is for people who are gifted at relating to people to excel at using those gifts. We assume that caring for people is just one of many potential gifts people can have. If you are a people person, use that gift. If you are not a people person, use your the other gifts you have been given. But what the world needs is not more people with perfect people skills. We do not need more professionals. What we need is ordinary people who, whatever their gifts might be, are willing to make people a priority and bear the burden to whatever degree of discomfort that might inflict upon them.
I don't find it easy to spend all day every day interacting with people. As the child of my parents, I inherited both their good and bad traits when it comes to people. In some ways, I am gifted. In others, I am not. But at the end of the day, it's not the particular gifts from my parents that matter. When I am tired from the people I interact with from work, and church, and community, and life, it's not my excellence or failings that make a difference. What matters is the knowledge that the God I serve and to whom I give my allegiance sees the human beings around me as of paramount importance. And therefore, as his servant, I have no right to do any less. Like my parents, if that is my motivation, feeling tired at the end of the day from all of the people I've seen will seem small and insignificant in the light of eternity.