As I walked up to the park and saw my friend there, it had been so long since I had seen her in person. It was nice to see her face-to-face again, but I wondered how I would be received. “How are you?” I asked. She answered “It’s been rough. I miss food at restaurants, I miss kids coming over for playdates. Man, the ups and downs at work, and the weeks of no work, have been really hard.” She sighed, “And I just miss seeing people so much.”

I have run into person after person who is hurting in some way because of this past year. To be honest, as we have started to come together and socialize in different forms, I’ve felt some anxiety about it. How do I reach my neighbor now? It feels like all the social norms have changed on me overnight and everyone’s comfort zones and expectations are different. Do they want to meet in person? Are they comfortable with playdates at the park? Does my elderly neighbor want someone to come for a visit in her home yet? How about my immune-compromised friend who hasn’t been able to do anything in person for a year now?

So many questions… So many needs we all have… How do we even start to think of wading into this?

Talking to people in my life recently, two things are clear. First, each of them is hurting from this year, and second, there is anxiety about how to begin socializing with each other again. Everyone’s needs and comfort zones are different, mine included.

Admittedly, it was tempting to just talk about easy things and avoid the topic of getting together again. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I feared being judged and didn’t know in what ways they would feel comfortable meeting.

God laid it on my heart to start unassumingly, just asking questions. “Do you want to plan something? Should we have a phone date? If we do meet in person, what are you comfortable with?”

As the weather warms and we start to see each other’s faces again, let’s pray that God will lay on our hearts how to have intentional conversation with each other. Each one of us is coming out of this year with hurts. Let’s pray that God will give us opportunity and vulnerability to minister to one another and to love our neighbors. I think we may be surprised at how open our neighbors are to a sincere sharing of the love of Jesus spoken from a friend.

I still stumble with what words to say, or questions to ask, but I know that the Lord is going before me. He goes before you as well. Our schedules may have quieted this year, but the Holy Spirit has been busy! I am excited to see what beauty God brings out of the ashes.

“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 31:8).

Karen Stenberg serves as Secretary for Women’s Ministries of the Church of the Lutheran Brethren. She attends Calvary Lutheran Church in Bergenfield, New Jersey where her husband Rev. Daniel Stenberg serves as pastor.

Engaging Our Neighbors
Pizza and Community