I was reading this book once and the author was talking about suburbs and sidewalks and how our neighborhoods are really meant for cars, not pedestrians. Though there are sidewalks, you really need to hop in your car to get places. Randy Frazee in his book, Making Room For Life, talks about how we drive place to place to engage in a dozen or so circles of shallow relationships and all the while we spend a lot of that time alone in our car. He goes on to describe a condition in our society that he calls “crowded loneliness”.
You know how it is. Many days we arrive home from work, check the mail, park the car in the garage (if we are not using it for storage!) and spend the rest of the day behind closed doors trying to keep well fed and aptly entertained – unless pestered by a responsibility. Yet, if you’re like me, you continue to wrestle with feelings of discontentment.
So God created Adam and said it’s not good for him to be alone so He made Eve. They got to hang out with God. And part (if not all) of God’s motivation for creating mankind was to enjoy a relationship with Him. Things got screwed up and man and God were separated by sin. We were no longer close with him. (BTW – Have you noticed the separation that occurs between you and a person when you do something wrong against them?) I can’t help but wonder if feelings of discontentment in our lives stem from our lack for meaningful connections with other people. Think about a job or town or school you’ve had to leave. What do we always say? It’s the people we’ll miss. And don’t we all have this need to be fully known and loved anyway?
My wife and I love the city and love to take long weekend trips to Chicago. Every time we’re there, we wish God would tell us he wants us to move there. There are people everywhere and always something going on. So much excitement. So much opportunity. But I have this theory. I think what attracts me to the city actually is that there are people everywhere. But deep down what I’m longing for is more meaningful relationships. And perhaps I think an urban life would more likely offer that than my current suburban neighborhood.
When I really think it through, there would be no difference. I would probably move to the city, ride the subway home, ride the elevator to my apartment, close the door, and the rest would be the same. In my life thus far there have been no instances of accidentally developing meaningful relationships with others. A change in environment won’t change that.
Therefore, my conclusion is that engaging in a deep and meaningful relationship is based solely on my decision to intentionally pursue it.
Choosing your environment is a decision you make, and that decision can make contact and relationships more or less likely. You are right; moving into an urban environment isn’t a panacea, but it might be one decision – among many – that support more relational living.
Yeah – I’m sure the environment has SOME bearing on relational living… If I move to the middle of nowhere, that won’t be helpful. What I always come back to is – if I’m not knocking on my neighbors door now, what makes me think I’ll do it if it’s 100 feet closer?
I sometimes wonder if God can trust my family to live more missionally where we are now, (if I can be faithful with a little…), maybe He’ll lead us into new environments where we can have more relational opportunities (…I will be entrusted with a lot)
Or maybe he’ll put you to further work right there. 🙂
Coming from one who lives in a big city, I think it’s significantly easier to reach out to your community than if you live where you have to drive all the time. Even if it’s not intentional, people always watch your actions and reactions, and when you live in a city and use public transportation/walk a lot, you have the opportunity to show Christ to those around you.
At the same time, you’re right, it would be easy just to fall back into the comfortable way of living – closing the door behind you. One great thing about the city is even if you’re apprehensive, there are people here who aren’t and they provide that ministry for you to get plugged into. I myself can be apprehensive about helping somebody all on my own, but my church does community service projects once a month, so I volunteer with that.
It’s always good to get out of your comfort zone. One of our core values at NCC is “playing it safe is risky.” You’ll never know what kingdom work God has for you unless you open the door.