Monday, October 12, 2009

I'm a good Christian... don't get so close.

I'm a hiring manager in an information systems development field, which means that I interview and hire quite a few folks, most of whom you wouldn't typically refer to as a "people person."  In fact, I don't consider myself much of a people person.  I avoid using the telephone as much as possible.  I use instant messaging at work more often than I get up and walk down the aisle to talk with someone.  Though my grammar and spelling are evidence to the contrary, I'm much more comfortable with the written word than with personal conversation.  In fact, I go so far as to tell potential employees that "I don't really like people."  Not something you want to hear from your potential boss.  It's a wonder anyone ever accepts an offer.

In my last job, the team I was part of was split 50/50 between two geographically dispersed sites.  It was two groups that were supposed to be actively merging and collaborating, and the obvious challenge was to figure out how these two groups could effectively share ideas and communicate decisions.  Technology worked wonders for those groups: conference calls, video conferencing, desktop sharing, instant messenger.  The only face time we ever had was once or twice a year, but we worked very effectively together.

Telling potential employees that I don't like people isn't entirely honest.  It's probably more honest the way that my wife and I talk about it.  I like the idea of people and I like having people around.  Interacting with them is what I don't like so much.  I'm not rude to people, I just don't necessarily want to have to deal with that kind of personal relationship development.

So, the post title begs the question: can I be a good Christian without really wanting to develop a lot of close, personal relationships with other people?  Am I not a good Christian because I can't remember the names of the kids of anyone who works for me... or with me... or for whom I work, for that matter?  I can still have a Christian sense of love for those people and care for them, can't I?

The Good Samaritan doesn't stick around to develop a personal relationship with the Jewish man.  In fact, he gets credit for his behavior because he was a stranger.  No where in the story does it say that these two guys became fast friends and starting having coffee every other Thursday.  Not that there aren't a lot of examples in the Bible that ask us to develop personal relationships with each other, but maybe some of us can still be good Christians without having to do so.


Elaine said...

I don't think you can love God without also loving his creation, but I think we have gone too far with this whole good Christian = nice person thing. Remember, St. Jerome has been described as pugnacious and cantankerous.

Stushie said...

People are the Lord's business, so they should be ours as well. You may be personally coming across as cold and indifferent.

As for the Good Samaritan, he promised to return after two days. He didn't leave the man without hope or the future promise of friendship.

Anonymous said...

Obviously no two of us are alike. Some of us are more outgoing with others. While in some sense you need to be true to yourself and genuine, with some work, even introverts can develop an extrovert side. Developing relationships are a part of sharing the faith, since faith intself is a relational thing, but at the same time you don't have to be the life of the party. Prayer can be a place to start, asking God to show you how you can minister effectively in Christ's name in the life of others.

Sarahlynn said...

In my husband's defense, I must point out that people laugh when he says that he "doesn't like people." It's much more light-hearted in person than it comes across to strangers on the screen. :)

Elaine, I agree. In fact, Jesus wasn't "nice" all of the time, either.

Stushie, it's a bit of a stretch to suggest that this parable promises future friendship: "'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'" NIV

Vern, I agree. And I think there's definitely both a place and a NEED in our communities of faith for those who are willing to do quiet, behind-the-scenes work in addition to those who are naturally more gregarious. It's hard to be a hermit and be actively engaged in a community of faith, but I believe it's OK to focus on a few deeper relationships rather than many shallow ones.

--introverted writer (who also happens to belong to a women's circle, teach an adult ed Sunday School class, be a LOGOS table parent, etc.)

jairus' daughter said...


one of my theological non-negotiables is that whatever this Christianity thing is about, it has to be applicable to all people. For example if "giving to the poor" is everything we do -- that is incomplete because it excludes the poor themselves from being part of "us." If "developing close relationships" is everything we do, this is incomplete because it excludes some disabled people (i'm not talking about wheelchairs, I'm talking about severe mental and developmental disabilities... I'm also talking asperger's syndrome, a milder disability that my cousin has, which orients her away from people in many ways.)
There are people who are predisposed to keep others at an arm's length. I have an ambivalent attitude toward how long a comfortable arm's length is, BUT when i was a baby i slugged a nice little church lady who stuck her face too close in my baby carriage.
People who are predisposed in this way may feel excluded from the huggy-lovey version of "christian intimacy."
but no one is ever excluded from doing justice, loving mercy, walking humbly with God.
Co-working is, for me, definitely a preferred form of intimacy. I feel closer to the people I bagged groceries alongside than I do with some of the small group ladies I've shared my inner thoughts with. I am simply more comfortable with a nuts-and-bolts orientation. But even though I may not fit into society's idea of what intimacy is supposed to be, I can still "love" those co-workers, by praying for them, standing up with and for them, doing them a favor.

I also would point you to Byron Anthony Wade (our vice-mod)'s blog about community building -- how the gym community can be "better than" church community in some ways... leaving him to wonder what the church really has to offer.
We as Christians need to realize we offer something different than the rest of the world. We don't just offer "community" and "intimacy" -- we offer CHRIST and the righteousness he taught.

Sarah said...

Not everyone has the same gifts, and I think it is a gift to be able to build personal relationships with a lot of people. It doesn't mean that you don't like people, but it may mean that you are not comfortable sharing too much of your and their personal feelings and information. And maybe you simply are not good at "small talk."

If you can be compassionate when a worker needs time off to take care of a serious family matter, if you can be an advocate for justice, if you can support God's work financially, if you can at least be kind, polite, fair, and honest in your dealings with those around you, you are "being a good Christian" in your relationships.

Stushie said...

Sarahlynn, I think when he says "when I return," he means, "Don't worry, friend, I'm coming back.' But it's only a story and not real life, is it?

Sarahlynn said...