Last summer we stumbled on a bluegrass concert in the square of downtown Fort Collins, Colorado. Our three kids migrated toward the front of the crowd to dance with the other children to the banjo, mandolin, upright bass, and guitar music.
My husband and I crouched on the cold concrete, watching the three of them twist their tiny bodies to the rhythm. Our three-and-a-half-year old daughter, Adeline, kicked her feet and raised her hands, letting the music move her. I admired her lack of self-consciousness. After a few minutes, another little girl with a brown ponytail and silver tutu sidled up to her and grabbed her by the hand. Away they went for the next thirty minutes, spinning and laughing, falling and turning.
Watching them, my five-year-old son stopped dancing and slumped towards the edge of the stage, no longer interested in dancing. He made his way back to us and leaned on my shoulder.
“When can we leee-eeave?” he whined over the music.
“Don’t you want to keep dancing?” I asked.
“No. I want to go. Now.”
“But why?” I asked, patting his sweaty hair with my hand.
“There aren’t any other boys dancing. And Adeline and her friend won’t dance with me.”
I glanced up at Adeline, still twirling with her friend, and put my arm around him. “I know that’s hard,” I said.
And I did. Just the week before, I had visited my mother’s Bible study that she leads in a town three hours away. I had looked forward to meeting a woman there named Andrea—another mom like me with three kids—that my mom had told me about. I suspected she was sitting just two women over.
“Let’s split into groups,” my mom had said and I hoped I could circle up with Andrea.
Andrea looked up at me, her arm outstretched as if to include me in her group. Instead she said, “Why don’t you go with those other women, and the three of us will group up?” Though I would be 40 years old on my next birthday, I still felt the familiar rankle of rejection. I was new, and felt unwanted. A simple invitation, even if it’s just a “come on over and sit next to me” or an unexpected smile, holds the hidden power to invite relationship. Or, if we are instead rejected, thrusts us further into loneliness and isolation. I wish I could shield my children from this sting of rejection.
Watching Adeline reminded me of the delight of choosing and being chosen—even if it’s just for thirty minutes. As someone who’s sometimes found it difficult to develop friendships as an adult, I envy children who enter and exit relationships with so few strings attached.
Children thrive in the moment. They enjoy friends when they’re together and don’t over-think it when it’s time to say goodbye. Accustomed to change and transition, they’ve learned the art of cultivating short-term relationships.
Perhaps this is another one of the attributes Jesus intended us to mimic when he told the disciples to “change and become like children”—the ability to invite, and then bask in one another’s presence without worry, over-analyzing, or fear.
Each simple effort to include, connect, and empathize with another person has the potential to breathe acceptance into another soul yearning to belong.
Leslie Verner is a goer learning how to stay. She traveled widely and lived in China five years before returning to the United States. She lives with her husband and three kids in northern Colorado. She is the author of Invited: The Power of Hospitality in an Age of Loneliness. Leslie writes about faith, justice, family, and cross-cultural issues at www.scrapingraisins.com and elsewhere on the web. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.