Breaking out of our personal spaces

I’m walking in downtown Houston when a sign gets all in my business.

It’s evening and the streets are mostly empty. I’ve been strolling to find some personality to this city – something that stands out, something to get me thinking. Standing on a corner, I look down and see that, apparently, I am trespassing.

Private property? Here? On a public corner? I felt like Dustin Hoffman to the taxi in Midnight Cowboy: “Hey, I’m walkin’ here!”

I’m sure there’s an explanation. (Most likely a tactic against homeless people.) The reason doesn’t matter, for the Spirit is using this to nudge me to think about how we stake out our own territory. I certainly did so many times today -- driving in traffic, waiting for boarding, navigating the airport. I have an easily offended sense of personal space.

That’s not a great thing. But it’s far worse when it becomes a societal problem.

The fact is: we live in an increasingly individualistic age. When morality is unmoored from an anchor of foundational truth, society becomes like Israel in Judges 17:6, where “everyone did what is right in their own eyes.” In our “hands off” age, we live and let live. And yet we’re ill at ease at how long the child across the street is left alone. Or how infrequently anyone visits the elderly man in the apartment down the block. Or that no one asks a woman in church how she got that bruise.

God repeatedly commanded his people to care for “the sojourner, the fatherless, (and) the widow.” (Jer. 7:6) We can’t begin to care for the “least of these” if we don’t get to know them.

Who will cross the divide between our personal spaces? Tonight, I walk past some seemingly shameless souls who are ready to engage people in public. A man plays guitar in the park. Two separate panhandlers ask me for money. And a woman crows at me like a rooster.

They are extremes, sure. But I wonder how willing I am to reach out of my self-contained private property and make a connection. And so, as I re-enter the hotel, I stop and chat with the two women working the desk, hearing a little of their stories. Turns out, they’re both quite engaging and funny.

It’s a small step.

But small steps, taken toward each other, can bring us all closer.

Father, give us the courage and compassion to reach over these invisible walls we put up around ourselves. In church, in the office, in public spaces, make us aware of the opportunities you give us to connect with others so that we may show them your love. For you reached out to us when we were strangers.

Bruce Van Patter

As a freelance illustrator, graphic recorder, and author, Bruce is on a lifelong journey to delight in the handiwork of the Creator. And he’s always ready for fellow travelers.

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