it’s easy to make friends with kids


My life – and heart – are full of many special friendships with families and little people – and my connection with each of them is unique.

  • C gives me really ‘squeezey’ hugs and at some point squeezes me even tighter – mostly just his face and his bottom tense without his arms getting any tighter, but I still need to respond like he’s squeezing my neck hard.
  • considers me her private Disney-Jukebox. At any moment she might name a Disney princess or character and I have to sing ‘their’ song.
  • will come sit near me on the couch and stick her legs in the air – that’s so I can use her legs as pedals on an imaginary bike and pump her legs around – forward, backward, slow motion or super fast – and take us on imaginary adventures.
  • As E comes in for a hug she says ‘not too tight, not too tight’ – that’s code for ‘squeeze me like you’re trying to pop me!’
  • N doesn’t smile, hug or really even talk – but he fist pumps, with a little bit of a hand explosion and accompanying sound effect at the end. Just leave it at that and move on.
  • B is getting taller but is definitely already stronger than me – her cuddles are fierce and it’s best I take a deep breath when I see her coming before she squeezes it out of me.
  • have learnt from their father the ‘funny’ art of asking for a high-five but pulling out at the last second and leaving me hanging. Note to self – do not be trapped, do not be trapped!
  • B doesn’t like to be talked to directly too soon – I can talk to people around her and she will watch until she gets comfortable enough to smile – then and only then, should I try to make direct contact with her – anything before then will be met with much resistance.
  • A jumps into my arms, spreads her hands out wide and then gives me a ‘look’ – the look is to prompt me to start saying ‘no, don’t squeeze me, you’ll pop me!’ at which point she squeezes me until I use my finger to make a popping sound with my mouth. She will squeeze indefinitely, it’s best I ‘pop’ early.
  • E asks for a ‘really, really, really, REALLY, big kiss’ – that means that with my lips squished to his cheek I have to swing him around and hang him upside down and shake him until there’s a final ‘mwah!’ at the end.
  • J thinks it’s funny to sneak up behind me and yell to scare me (it’s not), so even when I see her coming it’s best to act surprised when she gets there. If I’m in a conversation, rather than interrupt she will just hug me from behind – best be ready for that one too! (Even if I’m praying for someone! 🙂 )
  • L will give me a hug so tight it ‘pops my head off’ – from time to time he decides to keep my head or swap it with someone else’s. It’s up to me to remember where my head is on any given day.
  • holds her breath while I come towards her for a kiss – if I stop just before I get there she’ll grunt and lean the rest of the way rather than handle the suspense.
  • considers me her personal play-equipment – she will launch from anywhere and attach herself to me. If I’m sitting down and she is nearby I should expect high impact contact at some point.

Reflecting on these (& many other) special interactions I’m mindful of two things. 

1. Children respond so readily to any effort we make to know and connect with them personally. 

So maybe we should do that more often. 

2. Adults probably aren’t that different. 

So maybe we could make that effort more often too. 

why people at church don’t talk to you


A friend and I have been known to run an experiment. When attending a different church, she leaves me alone in the foyer (to go to the bathroom or something) and we see if anyone will talk to me. It’s damaging to my pride, self-esteem and sense of confidence in my personal hygiene to report that – more often than not – when she returns, I’m standing where she left me feeling forlorn and having had no interactions with others.

As someone who leads in a church and desires that our environments be welcoming and inclusive for all – I run this experiment not just as a test of the church I’m visiting but to remember for myself what it feels like. To experience that awkwardness of trying to posture myself to look open to conversations or interactions without making a fool of myself. And as bad as it feels, I remember that my experiment is only partly accurate because I’m a visitor. Others coming into churches come because they are looking to find Jesus! Some come because they are desperately seeking a place of connection and belonging – of home. While I’m only there for one night. So much more is at stake for them.

Whilst I have received feedback from people who have felt a little ignored or adrift in our church, it’s more likely that those who feel this most poignantly haven’t stayed around to tell anyone – they’ve just left. You may relate to this experience in your own church environment. You look around and others are deeply engrossed in conversations and excited interactions and you wonder why you’re not included.

 

The reason people at church might not talk to you is because they are exactly like you!

They are uncomfortable talking to strangers. As an outgoing, verbal, extrovert I am uncomfortable talking to strangers! Most people are! People don’t talk to you because, just like you, they are unsettled about talking to people they don’t know. How awkward will this be? What if we have nothing in common? What if I inadvertently offend or upset them with what I say? What if they don’t want to talk to me!? EVERYONE is processing these same questions.

They are comforted by their own friends. There’s safety and security in the knowledge of their connection to their group of friends. And in fact, they may well be worried that if they don’t speak to these people no one else will speak to them and so they don’t leave the circle for fear of feeling that isolation. We are all creatures of comfort and security. Stepping away from the known and into the unknown requires a bravery that we don’t always manage to summon.

Someone once said to me “I never realised how cliquey people were until all my friends were away one week and no one spoke to me.” She didn’t even realise the irony of what she was saying. She only noticed that everyone else stuck to their friends when the friends that she stuck to weren’t around.

They wrongly assess their social position. Frequently, the socially insecure assume that everyone else is socially confident. The quiet and shy ones assume that the noisy ones are more bold and self-assured (when, often, it is just the same feelings manifesting in different coping strategies). Those unfamiliar in an environment assume that everyone else is quite familiar. Those who are more connected don’t trust their social connections enough to leave them temporarily to reach out to others.

Ultimately, the human condition is such, that we are all looking for a degree of connectedness and are all at the mercy of one another to find that place of belonging and welcome. New. Old. Loud. Quiet. No one is exempt from contributing to the social dynamic of a community.

*** A common cry. ***

“What if I go up to someone and say – Are you new here? – and they say – No, I’ve been coming for 3 years.

OR what if you start your conversation a different way!?! (Genius, I know!)

“How are you today?” (Revolutionary, but effective.) “Are those your kids? Have you had a busy week? What’s ahead for you this week? How will you be spending your afternoon? Have you done the winter pruning of your fruit trees yet?” (Read – there are lots of other ways to start a question that don’t need you to guess how long they’ve attended your church!)

Or just a simple, “I don’t think I’ve met you before, I’m Kim!” might be enough.

The reason people in MY church don’t talk to you is because people like ME (and you) need to get better at it. We can do this!