Several years ago my wife and I hiked the Inca Trail in Peru, a multi-day trek through lush forests and up into the mist covered mountains, camping along the way. We were part of a traveling group of strangers who were intent on challenging this feat of endurance together. After days of hiking we finally made it to the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu. I remember the morning we made our final push. We got up well before the sun and the rain was soaking us through and through. With head lamps lighting our way we plodded in the mud for hours before finally reaching our destination; a moment of splendour as the sun rose over this remarkable jewel of Peruvian history. It was perfect. Then, cold, wet, smelly, filthy and hungry our group of 10 travellers stumbled onto a bus that would take us back to civilization. In that moment we did not look like the bold traveling adventurers we may have imagined ourselves to be, we looked more like a shivering clump of tired drown rats. Even though we must have been quite a sight, we didn’t have to apologize to each other for the mud or the smell, we were in it together.
There is something very comforting about being part of a group where you do not have to explain yourself, fix yourself up, or be ‘put-together.’ These are people with which we have such meaningful affinity and closeness that we don’t need to apologize about our messy home or crying child. There is a level of authentic safety that comes from having people in our lives who welcome us irregardless of the cloud of chaos following us.
Jesus had a particular fondness for people who didn’t have it all together. His culture prided itself in living ‘rightly’ before God. It was a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps kind of religiosity. However Jesus wasn’t found glad-handing that crowd. In fact, I rather imagine that Jesus would have been part of our tired group of mountain climbers, journeying along with his friends who knew they didn’t have to apologize for how they looked, acted, or smelled. Jesus enjoyed being with his messy friends and is with us, even now.
It’s this posture of ‘with-ness’ that shapes the way we learn to be with others. Those who care for neighbours and neighbourhoods know that the goal is not to fix others. Rather, we realize that simply being present, attentive, and available can have a powerfully gracious effect on our neighbourhoods. Creating authentic groups of neighbours and friends who are pleased to connect with each other in spite of how crazy or messy the day has been is a hallmark of a healthy neighbourhood and vibrant relationships. Who do you have in your life who allows you to be yourself?
Do you know a tired parent or a hard working business person? Whatever mountain the people on your street have had to climb this week, consider that each day is an opportunity for us to create neighbourhoods that extend authentic grace.