It is the space that exists between me and any other person I do not know.
It is the gap of anonymity.
I could be standing right next to someone in the line at Starbuck's, but if I do not know the person, the gap separates us as effectively as any canyon.
This gap keeps me from knowing the person's name, their story, what matter's to them. It keeps me from knowng what Jesus is up to in their life. It keeps me from being any use to Jesus in His redemptive mission because the gap is keeping me out.
As long as the gap remains, we remain separated.
Once you become aware of the gap, you can almost feel it there. It is like an invisible force field. You can almost hear it hum. I am literally 24 inches from this other person, but the gap has astonishing power to keep us separated. Ignoring each other. Acting like the other doesn't exist. No animosity. Only anonymity.
However, as effective as the gap is in keeping people apart, it is also weak. It can be easily breached. The 24 inches can be spanned. Breakthrough is easily accomplished.
I learned this several years ago when I overheard a conversation between my youngest daughter, who had just started preschool, and my eldest daughter, who was nervous about her first day of High School. The eldest daughter was afraid she wouldn't know anyone. That she wouldn't have any friends. She knew about the gap.
The youngest heard her concern and met it with this sage advice. "Making friends is easy. All you have to do is walk up to someone, say, 'Hi! My name's Ellen. What's your name?' When they tell you their name, then you're friends."
Could it be that simple?
Ok, so maybe you're not instant, tight-nit friends, but Ellen was right. This is the first step toward any friendship. Pierce the gap. Span the space. The gap is real but it is easily breached. Step 1: Acknowledge the other human being. "Hi!" Step 2: Start to find out their story. Begin with, "What's your name?"
We at Dwelling 1:14 call this the Practice of Talking with People. It might seem self-evident or overly obvious. But we find that at an astonishing rate very few people actually put it into practice. The gap rules. But here's the important part: Once the gap is breached, you never know what God might do.
One thing I have learned. God can do a whole lot more with two people who have started talking even at this rudimentary level than He can with two people studiously ignoring each other.
With a simple, "Hello! What's your name?" we are in play. The gap is gone and possibilities now emerge.
Does something redemptive happen every time we span the gap with a new person? No. But when something redemptive happens it is because the gap was first spanned.
A week ago, Susan and I went out on a date. We went to a local Mexican restaurant and then to a movie. At the restaurant, it went like it usually does when you first sit down at a restaurant. A waiter came up to us and got thing rolling. His name was Quinton. (The gap was going.) He looked a little bored, like he wasn't thrilled to be a waiter. Nothing rude. Just a sense that there was a lot on his mind. On his next pass, Susan asked him if he was in school around here. "No, I just got out of the Marines." (The gap was going.) "Well, thank you for your service to our country. Are you glad to be out?" "No, I would have liked to re-enlist. But my dad is sick." (The gap was gone.)
Before we had even begun our meal, we found out Quinton's dad had a rare disease that is treatable, but will keep him dependent on infusions and too weak to work for the rest of his life. His name is John. Quinton isn't angry or resentful that his life has had to change to help his dad. But he is a little confused. And hoping for things to go better than they are now. We said we knew Someone who could help. We said we prayed every day anyway, and would be happy to pray for his dad. Would he like that?
Yes. Yes, he would. (Would you join us in praying for the healing of John today, as well?)
The gap between Quinton and us could have kept us from this redemptive moment. But the practice of talking with people, asking the next question, taking interest in them because you just never know who God has brought across your path, breached the gap and God got started.
Does it always work out this way? No.
But it always starts out this way: Acknowledging that there is a real human being standing right in front of you and that the gap has got to go.
Jesus might be up to something.