Over the years, my kids have had vocabulary assignments where they’ve needed to write an antonym for each word on a list. When my kids were in first and second grade, the antonyms were pretty obvious. The opposite of “happy” is “sad.” The opposite of “up” is “down.” Easy peasy. We got this, kid. (Insert fist-bump here).
But now, my kids are teenagers, and the word lists are more complicated. What’s the antonym for “infamous” or “rancorous”? Or maybe “technique” or “squander”? (It kills me when they want an antonym for a noun. Insert eye-roll here).
Okay, what about the word “aloof”–what’s the antonym for that? I have an unexpected suggestion for that one! But first, let’s chat about Friendship, our Humble Faith theme of the month.
Sometimes friendship comes naturally and easily and lasts a lifetime. You and your bestie are two peas in a pod from the very beginning. You uplift one another and can be 100% yourself around each other. She is your ride-or-die, your shoulder to cry on. She prays with you, inspires you, and listens intently to you. These are the people you don’t clean your house for–they have their own key and just show up unannounced in their sweats and messy bun. Sometimes with your favorite Starbucks drink in hand. Score! You hit the friendship jackpot. (Praise God, I have a few of those!)
But sometimes, it’s not that easy. A friendship you seek doesn’t happen. You try to get to know the person, but the closeness is just not attainable despite your desire, common values/interests, and best efforts. You admire and respect this person from afar, but you can’t find a way in. You may even go so far as to make plans, but they always fall through. Somehow the friendship is always just beyond reach. This person is just … aloof.
I honestly think most people don’t mean to give off this vibe–it can happen due to many factors. Maybe their friend circle is at capacity, and they have nothing left to give, or they’re hurting in invisible ways. Perhaps they’re just shy. Or they’re burdened by their own load to carry and aren’t noticing you. But it can still sting when we perceive someone as standoffish.
And then, let’s be honest, sometimes it’s less subtle–it’s flat-out rejection. You aren’t invited to the get-together. Your texts are left on “read.” Your initiations are ignored, or you’re always the initiator. You’re told the group is full. You scroll social media and see everyone having fun without you. Or maybe a friendship you’ve cherished in the past abruptly ended and the reasons are unclear. OUCH!
It occurs to me that Jesus’ love and friendship with us are not like human friendship. It’s never on shaky ground. It’s not fickle, unpredictable, or dismissive. It’s not dependent on our performance, effort, or perfection. In fact, Jesus is the opposite of aloof. (His name is literally what I would suggest if the word showed up on a vocabulary antonym assignment!)
Jesus’ mission on earth was “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10), showing that He is not only accessible and available when we call out to Him, but indeed He is often the seeker, the initiator of relationship. One of my favorite things about God is that He pursues. And in so doing, He sets a meaningful example for how we should relate to one another.
My father-in-law once endeavored to draw a downward-facing arrow in the margins of his Bible whenever he came across an example of heaven/earth contact initiated by heaven. There were a LOT of down arrows!
Here are a few examples from both the Old and New Testaments:
God came looking for Adam and Eve after the fall (Genesis 3:9).
God initiated contact with Abraham (Genesis 15:1), Isaac (Genesis 26:2-5), and Jacob (Genesis 28:12-15) to announce and confirm His covenant with them.
God sought Hagar after she fled (Genesis 16:7).
God pursued Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3: 1-4).
Jesus called the twelve disciples one by one (Matthew 10:1-4, Luke 6:12-16).
Jesus initiated contact with a Samaritan woman (John 4:7-26).
Jesus used the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin (Luke 15:3-10) to demonstrate the pursuing nature of God.
Jesus reached out to a crippled beggar (John 5:6).
Jesus pursued the blind man after he was thrown out of the synagogue (John 9:35).
Jesus went to Martha’s home, seemingly without invitation (Luke 10:38).
Jesus noticed and healed a crippled woman in the synagogue (Luke 13:12).
There are many more examples–this is just a subset of the times when God takes the lead to reach out and connect with humankind. If you take the time to look up the verses above, you’ll find words like:
“…the Lord God called to the man…”
“…the word of the Lord came in a vision…”
“The Lord appeared…”
“God called to him…”
“The Lord found her…”
“…when Jesus found him he said…”
“…when Jesus saw her he called her forward…”
“…he chose them…”
These words stir my soul!
Perhaps the clearest example of God’s pursuit of us is when Jesus came to earth in the first place. Despite the world's depravity, the sin and rebellion that should have repelled Him, Jesus drew near to it. Like a firefighter rushing into a burning building or a soldier advancing to battle, knowing the end result was death, He came anyway. He gave the glory of heaven to become a helpless human baby and to dwell among us, right here with us in the fray: Immanuel, God with us.
God Himself is the pursuer; this is the antidote to every rejection I’ve ever felt, especially when considering that He not only reaches out to those seeking Him but also those who have hurt or rejected Him. I remember distinct times when God called me out and spoke my name, even in my sin, apathy, or carelessness. I’m sure you have a similar story and could add your memories to the list above. Maybe we just need to be reminded of that today. He loves us and pursues us. And therefore, we carry His acceptance into every space we walk.
And this is what we are to emulate in our own relationships. Philippians 2:5 says, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus”(NIV). Wow, what a high standard!
The way Jesus initiates contact and pursues people–I want to mimic that quality in my relationships. I aspire to be the friend who makes room for others, who takes the initiative, who looks people in the eye and remembers their stories - their struggles, preferences, victories, and dreams.
Confession: I don’t do this naturally. It isn’t my default position to be available and interested. I have tunnel vision. I can be consumed with the narrative in my head and totally miss contact with the people around me. I’ve been confronted with my own tendencies to shut people out, and I’ve needed to apologize for it more times than I can count, even though I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of such behavior (facepalm).
I need divine help from the One who does this best, as evidenced in His word, to make space for people and draw them in. I pray that the Lord will help me SEE people on a deeper level, giving space to those who want it, and pulling in close those who need more from me.
I once read a blog that offered an alternative to the idea of having “circles” of friends because circles are closed, impenetrable figures. Rather we should have “U-shaped” groups of friends, open on the ends for new ones to join and feel like they are included. I love that way of visualizing it! Perhaps this gets harder and harder the older we get because many circles of friends have been well established and closed for years. But we can do it by relying on God to reflect His heart in ours – so that our relationships mirror how He relates to us.
How has God pursued you?
Who can you reach out to today?
How can you open up a closed circle to invite someone in?
How can your relationships more accurately display the accessibility of God?
Feel free to share in the comments below!
Tricia McCorkle is a Contributor for Humble Faith Ministries, Jesus follower, Southern California wife and mom of three who loves writing, teaching math, singing in choir, and making cakes. Tricia has a passion for all people to know God's love and feel included in circles of faith.