On loving someone the first time we meet:
Most times when we meet people we don’t feel safe because we are in unknown territory—we just don’t know that person yet. Instead of loving them we fear them, consciously or unconsciously. We might respond in all sorts of ways. We might be super friendly, or shy, or funny, or cautious, but still not be ourselves. In that very first encounter, there isn’t concern for them but concern for how we might come across.
If we want to respond with love the first time we meet, we have to develop new skills because love is generally not our automatic response when we meet someone the first time.
The first step toward these skills is simply to pay attention to what we naturally do when we meet someone. To cultivate awareness. When I first tried this step, I noticed some things. I tend to be the one who talks and jokes too much when meeting new people. Last year when I worked in the coffee shop at Connect Kitchen in Bangkok, it was easy for me to joke and laugh with customers. It was fun, but these relationships were superficial and the focus was on myself. The customers were not able to see me really, nor I them, in these interactions. I felt unsure, maybe shy, so I went to automatic behaviors. And so love and care that might have moved us into a more connected place didn’t happen.
After we become aware of what we naturally do, we can evaluate and notice who we are focused on (usually it’s ourselves) and that’s what we want to adjust. When our natural tendencies are to focus on ourselves, we need to develop new ways to think. Our self-focus comes from our need to feel safe. In order to focus on others, we first need to learn that we are safe, because we are loved children and belong to a Father who loves us. When we keep this in the front, we won’t be afraid of others or of our own failings. We need to cultivate our identity. When we know we are loved, then we won’t need to go into those automatic “fear” behaviors. This does not happen overnight. It’s a process that requires pre-steps, we have to prepare the ground—clear dead leaves, loosen the soil, and add nutrients—groundwork before we plant, before we can love. When we are secure as God’s beloved, we will respond with that love. That’s our second step.
Our coffee shop serves a handful of regular non-Thai customers and some, they are pretty lonely. They might stop for coffee and want someone to talk to in English. One afternoon I was tired, too tired to be on “alert” and I sat in the back. One of my favorite regulars came in and he walked back to where I was. We’d had so many quick superficial conversations but this time I was quieter, and he had things to say, personal things he was figuring out about himself and his life. It was clear to me that he felt at home and connected and that he needed to say some things out loud to someone. I was honored that day, and humbled. It was because I was tired and didn’t have energy to protect myself, be clever, that we had that pause. I still need a lot of practice to do this on purpose, to be able to relax, to forget myself and be confident in my identity as His child.
Once we’ve cultivated awareness and cultivated our identity we need to learn some basic listening skills. This requires hard work because it is also not our natural way. We might even need to take a class. Listening does not come naturally for most of us. So dig in and cultivate good listening skills, be patient. It is a lifelong training.
The best listening happens when we are safe with solid identities and have also developed some basic listening skills. We recommend both, build skills by developing practical listening tools and by paying attention. When we learn that we are safe, love will be our “automatic” when we meet someone new. God’s love poured out through us.