On Giants' Shoulders

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Just Polite Talk

Have you ever encountered people who are effusive with what I like to term "polite talk?" They will tell you how much they would love to get together with you, how much they miss you, how much fun it would be to "do lunch" sometime. However, when you try to get around to the specifics they are always too busy. They urge you to come and visit, but when you've found a space of time when you can, they suddenly find multiple excuses for why it's not going to be convenient, and this is the case each and every time you suggest the possibility. The fact is that while they do experience some warm feelings when they think about you, they don't really want to have a real relationship with you that requires any degree of sacrifice on their part. I have a couple of these friends who've been urging a visit ever since last spring. One of them was invited to my daughter's wedding and RSVP'd with a yes, but never showed up and never called to let us know why. These are not the people to call in the middle of the night when you're in a crisis. One might call them fair weather friends, but the fact is that they are really only casual acquaintances who think of themselves as your very, very dear friends, but who have tons of other very, very dear friends whom are also, at best, casual acquaintances. Some relationships were closer at one point, but have fallen into the former friends category. Time, distance, or circumstances have changed the relationship and there's no longer any effort being put into it to keep it current. However, I know people who will describe those old acquaintances as their very, very dear friends despite the fact that they've had no contact for over a decade. The reality simply doesn't match the talk.

Some of these people are casual acquaintances or "former friends" of Jesus as well. They will proclaim that they love Jesus at Christmas. They'll sing the songs, they'll send the cards, they'll celebrate His birth, they may even show up at church. Then they'll go back to ignoring Him, they'll go back to living a life that has no connection to Him, and they'll reject any and all invitations to get closer. Does it hurt His heart the way that the rejection I experience from those "polite talkers" hurts me? Some people would say no, but I remember Jesus lamenting over Jerusalem and I'm not so sure. All I know is that day after day, week after week, year after year He's still there and if the "polite talk" ever becomes more than just "polite talk" that He will welcome the prodigal with open arms.

Sometimes it's tempting to wish that all of those people who simply engage in polite talk at the holiday time would simply be consistent with the rest of the year and leave Christmas to those who actually believe. Yet, as my friend Karen has pointed out, these are opportunities for grace. At this time of year we can legitimately send greetings with a spiritual message that won't automatically offend. At this time of year, the messages of hymns may actually be able to penetrate into their otherwise secular brains. The message may be presented in a pretty banal fashion in some TV presentation of the nativity or it may be well presented in a homily at church, but it's the one time of the year that the possibility of being open to the message is actually there. It's easy to be skeptical about the possibility of change. After all the message has been presented year after year. They've celebrated Christmas season after season with no lasting result. But we never know when this might be the year that it's different. If God is going to continue to welcome the prodigal, it's probably important that we not get too cynical about the possibility of their conversion.

The Church continues to open her doors to these people with their once a year devotion in hopes that eventually it will be more than that. Mass yesterday was particularly well attended. Can we hope that perhaps it's a sign of things to come, a sign that for some people polite talk was replaced with the beginnings of a new life? Let's pray that's the case.


At 10:53 AM, Blogger Gtech said...

Thank you for sharing!


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