Recently, researchers at the University of California at Berkeley announced they would be part of a $100 million dollar project for space travel to see if there’s intelligent life in the universe. (Coincidentally, Stanford, which is Berkeley’s big rival in the Bay Area, where I live, recently announced a massive project to see if there’s intelligent life in Berkeley.) The plan is to send tiny nanocrafts—like spaceship butterflies—traveling at one-fifth the speed of light to Alpha Centauri. Stephen Hawking expressed the purpose poignantly: “It’s important to know if we’re alone in the dark.”[i]
The folks in Berkeley are not the only ones who want to know. It turns out that everyone—including you and me—is constantly sending out tiny little probes, emotional nanocrafts, to find out whether they’re alone in the dark. They travel at high speed, and it’s easy to miss them. Those who are skillful at recognizing and responding to these probes have a great gift for cultivating intimate friendships. Those who are blind, or nonresponsive to them, often end up alone in the dark.
These emotional nanocrafts are what relational expert John Gottman calls “bids” for emotional connection.[ii] We start issuing these bids before we can talk. A baby’s cry is a bid to connect. As we grow older, these bids—or invitations— for intimacy take other forms. “A bid can be a question, a gesture, a look, a touch—any single expression that says ‘I want to connect with you.’”[iii] Intimacy of every kind is either built up or eroded based on how well we handle the subtle little nanocrafts of relational life.
Jesus walked through life as a master of intimacy. His invitations to connection were quite fearless in the face of possible rejection:
He asked a Samaritan woman to give him something to drink. It began an intimate conversation that would change her life.
He noticed a vertically challenged tax collector named Zacchaeus sitting up in a tree and invited him to come down and join him for dinner.
He noticed the little children that everyone else shooed away. He invited them to come to him, took them in his arms, and blessed them.
Throughout his life, Jesus pursued intimate fellowship with everyone from fishermen, prostitutes, tax collectors, and soldiers, to Pharisees who came to him by night and lepers who came to him by day.
He gave the greatest invitation ever offered, in two simple words: “Follow me.” He extended the invitation to people walking alongside a lake, to a man in a toll booth, to a rich young ruler (who rejected it), and to people who had suffered loss.
Jesus was Peter’s intimate friend for three years. Then after Peter had denied Jesus and Jesus had forgiven him, in the very last chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus issues his invitation to Peter one more time: “Follow me.”[iv]
And now Jesus offers the same invitation to you. Just as he offered to be with those who would follow him back then, in the midst of their ordinary lives, so too, he offers to walk with you in the midst of your ordinary life today.
Will you accept, reject, or ignore him?
If you choose door #2 or #3, don’t think that’s the end of the story. God continually invites us to connect with him. And he doesn’t give up.
Each sunrise is no less miraculous just because we’ve gotten used to the seeing the sun rise. Waking up in the morning is a habit, but it’s also a mystery and it can be a gift. We might begin to see the start of the day as an invitation to enjoy the gift of life rather than as a burden to be endured with gritted teeth.
Jesus said that seeing a person in need can be an invitation: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these . . . you did for me.” But then we have to be willing to be interrupted and enter into suffering.
Our work might be an invitation: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.”[v] Our computers might become little altars as we’re clicking away at the mouse of God.
Even loneliness can become an invitation to intimacy if we’re willing to sit quietly and listen rather than distract ourselves with a drink or a screen: “Deep calls to deep,”[vi]
Light speaks to us of God’s goodness; darkness speaks of our need. But both can become offers of God’s presence: “By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me.”[vii]
The heavens declare God’s glorious presence, but so do humbler delights on earth—“such created excellencies as the velvety coat of a puppy or the honking of geese in a November fly-by or the hitchhiking home of young beetles on the backs of bees.”[viii]
Stabs of guilt and pangs of regret become invitations to mercy and grace.
Perhaps Elizabeth Barret Browning was right after all:
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries.”[ix]
The point is, God sends us invitations to connect every day. And we can accept them, ignore them, or reject them. And we can learn to grow more skillful in recognizing these invitations to intimacy with God. Settle back in your chair. Be still. Grab a cup of coffee if it helps. Invite Jesus to experience your day with you. Take a moment to thank God for reaching out to you. Take a moment to confess and ask God’s pardon for those times when you’ve ignored or rejected his overtures. Take a moment and ask for God’s help in seeing and responding to his invitations. Then, hear Jesus issue the Grand Invitation to you once again.
In spite of your failures and betrayals, he calls you again, just as he did for Peter.
Tell him yes. Invite him to walk with you through every part of your day.
Welcome his presence in your life—if for no other reason than because it’s important to know that you’re not alone in the dark.
Adapted from I’d Like You More If You Were More Like Me: Getting Real About Getting Close by John Ortberg
I’d Like You More if You Were More like Me takes on one of life’s most important questions: How can I get closer to God and other people?
We were created for deep connections. When people have deep connections, says John Ortberg, they win in life. When they don’t have deep connections, they cannot win in life. I’d Like You More if You Were More like Me offers help in overcoming one of the biggest obstacles to making deep connections: the fact that we’re so different. Different from God and different from each other.
The good news is that connectedness is not based on similarity, but on shared experiences. When one person invites another to share an experience, they’re connected. It can be sharing a beautiful sunset or a meal, having a great conversation over cup of coffee, going for walk, or even teasing somebody. And when we share those same experiences with God, we get closer to him, too. God wants to connect with us—so much that he sent his son to live as a human being. God took on flesh and shared every human experience. So we don’t have to wonder what a close relationship with God looks like anymore.
An intimate relationship with God and other people doesn’t have to be a cliché, it can be a daily way of life.