Soon after we moved to the city, I took my son to rainbow park. There were only a few wispy clouds in the sky. I had a sense of freedom as we walked. We talked about important 3 year-old things like how pigeons can be scary and if there will be bubbles to play with. When we got there, we went down slides and played in the sand. As we played I looked around at the other children and people who were there. A couple of children were mechanically going down the slide, a girl with a dirty face and snotty nose was trying to dig to the bottom of the sand pit. A thin man in dark baggy clothes dropped off 2 boys, then went to sit far away against a wall. The boys did what boys do best: yelling and screaming and shooting each other with imaginary guns. The children stuck to their groups and none of the parents spoke to each other. Away went my sense of freedom. I could feel fear and mistrust permeate the park.
After a while, my son let me know that he was hungry, so we made our way to a bright red picnic bench and I got out our snack. I sat across from my son who was happily munching cucumber slices. He had that bright alert look he always has in his eyes. The blue sky, the trees, the ocean in the distance, were just a backdrop for this little wonder of creation. At that moment, as I admired him, my love felt enormous, my heart swelled. I took a deep breath, enjoying this rare peaceful moment.
But then I felt God tell me to keep this feeling, this love, this joy, but to replace the image of my son with the images of the other children and people at the park. To love them as much as I love my son. To imagine the others, those I recoiled ever so slightly from, sitting across from me, receiving all of my motherly affection, all of my admiration. To not change my feelings or my expression as they came and sat in front of the clear blue sky, the trees and the ocean in the distance. To find them just as beautiful as my own child, to love them as God loves them – as God loves me.
We’ve come to do just that. To build community, to bring the love of God to those who reside outside of our church walls. We’ve read, studied and planned for months. But we still have our privileges. We have a nice apartment and can pay the rent. We moved into the neighbourhood, but we can leave whenever we want to. We may never know the bravery, the courage or the struggles of our friends and neighbours.
The truth is that while we have come to serve, we are also looking to receive. We need them. We need kids to play with our kid, we need other parents to share our joys and frustrations with, we need a place to belong, we need a neighbourhood to be part of. We need to see not as I usually see – not with the world’s eyes, but as God sees – all little wonders of creation. Then and only then, can we be the neighbours that others need. Only then can we offer others a place in our hearts.