I think I’ve figured out why I like coffee shops so much. But before I get there, I have to reference something talked about in my last post. If you read it, then you know I had lunch with my pastor and that he challenged me with something difficult: engaging people. And you might also know that he referenced this past weekend as an example of how I tend to zone out; he had pointed out to me that I usually gave people one or two word answers whenever they’d ask me about my life or how things were going. Ever since he pointed this out from this last weekend, I’ve been wondering why it was that I seemed so distant.
Truth be told, last weekend was a refreshing weekend, as I wrote about several days ago. So for my pastor to say that it didn’t seem like things were fine or that I was having a good weekend makes me wonder about my actions when I’m around people. As I said last time, I’m not good at engaging people. But throughout all of today I’ve been wondering why and I think I’ve figured it out.
At the tail end of my freshman year, I started drinking coffee. I survived all of high school and most of the first year of college without giving in, but eventually I cracked. I started out drinking one cup every other day, but quickly got into a habit of drinking at least one cup a day. Eventually things escalated to where I was not only going to coffee shops to get coffee, but I was going there to study and do homework. Little did I know, though, that studying in these coffee shops would have an effect on how I operated around and engaged people.
“Why not go to the library?” you might ask and it’s a reasonable question. The Knight library (NOT named after Phil Knight for those of you who don’t go to U of O) has plenty of places for students to write papers, read books, or just study their notes. But after going there a handful of times during my freshman year, I quickly learned that it wasn’t the preferred location to study. I was always worried about how much noise I was making or I was getting really frustrated with the people who carelessly answered their phones while I was trying to read, which was ignoring the “Quiet Area” sign right next to them. So instead of distracting myself with the little noise of a library, I figured I could zone out to the greater noise of a coffee shop.
People ordering drinks, drinks being made, conversations going on all around, and the subtle jazz music all become background noise whenever I walk into a coffee shop. Even the people around me get tossed into my blind spot and treated as if they didn’t even exist. For the purposes of studying, this is great. Most of the time, I don’t even have to plug in my iPod headphones to zone out; the coffee shop noise does it for me. But for environments like the one I was in last weekend, the one with about twenty other people there, tuning everyone out isn’t ideal. In fact, as Tony pointed out to me yesterday, it’s actually kind of rude.
Environments like Cross Training or really any church body require something totally different than coffee shops; they require our ability to communicate and engage each other. The heart of the church is the many individuals coming together to talk about struggles or heartaches or challenges about God and our personal walks with Him. We gather together to encourage and be encouraged by each other, to lift each other up and be lifted up, to let our hearts and faiths sharpen each other’s. That’s the purpose of the Christian church; coffee shops don’t have that same purpose. Or at least, I don’t treat coffee shops with that same purpose.
Perhaps the root of the problem goes even beyond coffee shops. Maybe it’s something with the American ideal of individuality? But then again, Adam and Eve’s first sin was to think that they could go it alone and disregard God altogether. So then it’s not an American problem; it’s a human problem. And it’s one that I struggle with the most. More times than not, I have the desire, the urge, to be alone, to be left along the sidelines and out of the spotlight. You can definitely notice this about me when I’m hanging out in a group bigger than say ten people; I’m quiet, reserved, and generally in my own world. But if the group is maybe two or three people, then I’m probably one of the most talkative ones. Of course it depends on who else is in the group and what we’re talking about, but generally speaking, some people can’t shut me up when there are fewer people around.
I don’t write this to say that coffee shops mess everything up for me, but only to say that my frequency in going to coffee shops enabled the bad habit of zoning myself out when I’m in a group. Coffee shops provide an environment to be in a crowd of people, but yet remain alone. It’s a good habit when I’m seeking to study or do homework, but when I’m in the midst of a family of believers, it’s bad because it usually sends the wrong messages. Like some did with me this last weekend, people might start to think that I’m not doing so well or I’ve got some emotional issues going on that I don’t want to talk about. In reality, though, it was exactly the opposite. I was actually feeling pretty good about life this past weekend. But my habit of treating my family of God like a coffee shop kind of messed things up.
There is a time and place for everything. Studying and drinking coffee for coffee shops, prayers being prayed alone in one’s room, and engaging people when surrounded by them. Where I tend to fall short is correctly discerning which action belongs to which environment. It doesn’t mean that I no longer have the privilege of being alone and a little introspective every now and then, for Jesus did say to “Go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret,” – Matthew 6:6. But like Jesus talks about in verse 5, you shouldn’t carry the moments of solitude over and into the moments of fellowship. Gathering with the church means it’s time to engage people and corporately engage God. Praying alone in your own room means it’s time to reconnect and strengthen the one-on-one relationship with God. Making sure the two are properly separated, as I have found these last couple of days, really helps for a strong walk with God and a genuine involvement with His people.