Yes I know it’s been a disruption to schools, work and transport … but it’s also had its lighter side.
On Saturday we went for a winter walk and happened upon a family sledging down a hill. As I got closer I realized it was a lady I used to go to playgroup with when my kids were small. We had a really good catch up. Then my son said, “ You look cold, do you want some hot chocolate I made?’ We sat and shared a warm hot chocolate on that snow-covered hill. It was a simple moment, but one that was very special, amazing really! As the kids all piled off to play again I had the chance for some catch-up conversation. We talked about parenting, school, work and living life on a deeper level until our feet froze and our bodies could take it no longer. I left her having arranged to meet up again in the half term. I walked home that day with one of those ‘God-connecting’ moments, what Victor Hugo once described as ‘divine ambushes’.
Those following Twitter during the weeks of intensely bad weather would have come across a feed simply entitled UK Snow Update, which, as you can imagine, had updates on the weather’s disruption; road blockages, lane restrictions, school closures and other such information. One of the various ‘tweeted’ conversations was one that recommended when out clearing your drive of snow, why not take the time to clear your neighbours for them also, especially if that neighbour happens to be elderly. I couldn’t help but be impressed by this simple act of ‘neighbourliness’, but then felt a little sad that people should have to be reminded to do such acts of random kindness.
On a radio program about the same time, the Bishop of Norwich, Graham James, praised people for their thoughtfulness saying, “We’re often told how in the Second World War there was a great spirit of friendship and neighbourliness in our nation and Tuesday’s terrible weather in Norfolk re-created that spirit”. He continued, “Strangers went out of their way to help each other. Kindness and concern was unforced. We sometimes imagine our society is less caring than it was. Tuesday showed our best instincts are still secure.”
He gave an example of one Norwich mum, Sarah Pye, who found herself stranded on Recorder Road on a Tuesday evening after her car had broke down. Mrs Pye had been to Morrisons with her husband Dan, and their toddler Charlie.
The 30-year-old sales administrator said: “The car just stopped – I think Dan must have stalled because there was no grip. We were in the middle of the road. A man appeared and said he had a courtesy car – it was tiny, it was probably about the same size as a Smart car. He cleared the snow from it and parked it near our car to help us jump start it.”
After successfully getting re-started, they drove to their nearest Kwik Fit where they bought a new battery for the car. Mrs Pye added: “It was really nice of the man to help us – some other people pulled up in a Transit and offered to push us. We would have been stuck for a long time if it wasn’t for the man who jump started our car.”
It seems the weather wasn’t simply wreaking chaos, it was drawing from people a certain forgotten compassion and altruism. Like Sarah Pye, Betsy Hatter also expressed her gratitude when she phoned in saying, “I just want to say thank you to the lovely man who helped me over a very icy bit of pavement. I would have fallen if he hadn’t stopped”. Another told how her daughter had fallen over on a zebra-crossing only to be helped up by a “kind lady” who leapt out of her car to assist her.
Reaching out is simple!
Two Christmas’ ago we started something as a family we hadn’t done before. We decided to open our home to the street for drinks, carol singing, mince pies and fun. As a family we made a rack of mince pies and the children packaged and decorated them with napkins and a Christmas welcome, and went out with us door-to-door giving neighbours mince pies and inviting them to our open house. I asked my children’s piano teacher to come along and provide the music for the carols and, amidst plenty of Mulled wine and homemade mince pies, we sang carols shoulder to shoulder with neighbours, some of whom we had never had the opportunity to speak with before (never mind sing with!)
Reaching out to those who live on our doorsteps ought not to be an intensely difficult thing. It is unfortunate as Christians that none of us has the privilege of hand-picking who we love and reach out to and who we ignore. Calvary became not only the great means of salvation, but it also became the great eliminator of prejudice and preference. When Jesus talked about seeing him in prison, or sick, or homeless, or thirsty (Matt.25), he was redefining our understanding of ‘neighbour’.
Connecting to others does not require a degree in theology. Nor does it demand outstanding skills of elocution. Lonely people, hurting people, distracted and under-fire people don’t need a brilliant intellect, smart talker, multi-talented evangelist, they simply need a friend! This can be as simple as a casual ‘hi, how are you?’, or if the face-to-face sends shivers down you, why not walk your street and pray that God may show you who is in need of a friend.
We ought to regularly challenge ourselves to what Tommy Barnett referred to as ‘enlarging our circles of love’. We are all prone to ever detracting social circles. We find friends, value them, anchor them into our lives and retain them often to the detriment of others. The love of God is expansive (…for God so loved the world…), which leaves us all hard pressed to narrow it down to a select few. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have regular friends, but that we avoid locking ourselves into exclusive social circles.
2013 may be your chance to launch a street BBQ, set up a neighbourhood garden party, use your facebook status for more than simply what you’ve been up to, but as a way of inviting a broad circle of friends to something creative and interesting, a meal at a new restaurant, the latest blockbuster movie, a nights shopping, the list goes on.
It isn’t just the world out there that’s crying out for connection, but our world. This year may be your year to reach those you least expected. Make it a goal, and know that God will go with you.