No strangers admitted. It sounds cliquish or downright hostile—not a legacy we want to leave as Christians.
Yet two of the most spiritual women I know (who are among my favorite people) practice this theology every day of their lives. And without apology.
Debbie and Mindy would never dream of admitting a stranger into their lives. Instead, they make everyone a friend and usually about as quick as it takes to say hello.
Years ago, Debbie and her husband John sat a few rows in front of us on a flight to Cancun. On arrival at the Mexican terminal, Debbie proudly introduced us to the third occupant of their row. She not only knew the girl’s name and story, but informed us that she’d invited her to visit us at our condo in Akumal sixty-five miles away.
That might not sound terribly unusual if you’re imagining a couple of twenty-somethings planning a beach party or splitting the cost of a boat rental.
Not the story here.
Though Debbie isn’t against being the life of a party, what she had in mind was encouraging a new friend. You see, Debbie makes a habit of engaging those she can point to Jesus. And if you already know him, your burdens are hers. People are her calling.
When I walk with Mindy in her neighborhood, we stop to talk with people blocks away from her house. She asks one how his wife is recovering from a recent illness and the next about the job. She knows family members by name, and everyone seems to know her.
When Mindy’s in a crowd of teenagers, she’s no less popular. That’s because she has a knack for zeroing in on those who might benefit from her special brand of mentoring. It makes no difference whether they are church kids or random youth on a picket line; the eager and the hostile alike benefit from her gentle concern.
Those of us who find it difficult to dive into friendship with strangers often chalk it up to a difference in personality.
I’m just shy. Or that’s not my thing.
After all, we say, I ‘m friendly and caring. I chat with strangers in the line at the grocery store. I empathize with my friends, and even weep with those whose troubles are plastered on the television screen. But if you are like me, you’re usually too self-conscious and second-guessing of your observations to enter someone’s life without a direct invitation. It makes us uncomfortable.
At a Hume Lake marriage retreat we attended years ago, Bob Phillips and Ken Poure taught about the four basic personality types using the then popular Gary Smalley/John Trent Personality Inventory. Each character type is named for an animal with corresponding traits. (For a quick synopsis or to see how those line up with other assessments, check here.) At the conference we learned that Otters, for example, find it easy to talk to strangers, while Golden Retrievers are good listeners.
Those groups ought to shine at the hard and sometimes messy work of befriending strangers because it fits their personality. The rest of us rest of us are off the hook. Right?
But the Otters have a handicap. Sometimes they’re shallow and egocentric. And the Retrievers can be too fearful to approach people. So then maybe the job of befriending strangers should go to the adventurous Lions. But it turns out they might as easily be cold when it comes to people. And the discerning Beavers have a tendency to be unsocial.
God created every personality type to minister to people.
Though each of us has a strength we could use, we also carry one or more potential weakness that could sabotage the same mission. That’s because all strengths become liabilities when they are not continually nurtured and led by the Spirit. Sounds like these personality downsides might have something in common with sin.
The S… word is our clue that self-conscious reticence will have no place in God’s kingdom. We won’t be able to claim our quiet contemplative nature, our fear, or our lack of emotional warmth either. Our temperament does not excuse us from the business of loving. Besides, if we’re honest, we often don’t even see those who are hungry for kindness. We’ve got our nose in the grocery list, the meeting agenda or some other equally urgent matter.
All of us should approach strangers with our eyes open to possible friendship, witness, and service. Like Debbie and Mindy we need to let God empower the strengths he has given us. Though my friends do have winning personalities, their secret is that they are already moving in sync with Jesus when it comes to caring about people. And, like Jesus, people admitted into their lives don’t remain strangers. They become friends.