I heard a knock on my door at 11am last Saturday morning. I opened the door to find three little boys, probably between the ages 5 to 9. The smallest one was standing in front, peering up at me with his soft brown eyes. He then said, “Hi, I’mfrmbthlbattistchrchaniwswunringifyou want to come?”
I tried not to laugh. The little boy was looking at me so earnestly, and I didn’t want him to think I was teasing him, but I didn’t understand a word he said. It was the most adorable thing I had seen all week.
“Sorry, could you please say that again for me?” I asked. I couldn’t help but grin at him.
“Hi, I’mfrmbthlbattistchriwswunringifyou want to come?” he repeated, very seriously. It made me smile even more.
Their dads were standing by on the curb, watching. “Help him out!” one of the dads coached with a smile.
The oldest boy, a redhead with sparkling green eyes, said to me, “We’re from Bethel Baptist Church, and we were wondering if you would like to come.”
My heart swelled up so large inside my chest. I’m a Catholic and I go to my own church, and I’m not planning to switch denominations any time soon; but there’s something very special about receiving an invitation – an innocent, heartfelt, human invitation. It’s almost angelic. Compared to the automated, algorithmic “invites” we get on a daily basis through our cellphones and computer screens, an invitation delivered in person, face to face, out loud, at your doorstep, almost feels like a miracle. Of course, it helped that the message was delivered by three of the most adorable human beings on earth. However, even as I looked at their dads, smiling proudly at their sons from the sidewalk, eagerly watching for my response, I was reminded of a truth that is so simple and yet so easily forgotten: we’re all, in one way or another, connected. The easiest way to discover that connection is by invitation.
Everyone is busy. Everyone is tired. Everyone has a set of responsibilities, priorities, biases, and ideals. Everyone is worried about the dangerous unknown, the nameless stranger, the real-life bogeymen that are out in the world. It’s unrealistic to imagine a world where everyone invites random strangers for dinner indiscriminately. But last Saturday’s encounter made me ask myself some equally valid questions:
How many of my neighbors do I actually know by name?
How many times in the year do I see my extended family? My immediate family?
How many prayers have I said for the people I see at church? Do I even know any of them well enough to pray for them?
When I’m standing in line at the grocery store, waiting for a light to turn green, or sitting at my desk at the office, does my facial expression radiate joy? Or would I be better off hanging a “Closed” sign on my forehead?
Humans need other humans to thrive. Especially during these times of increasing tension and division, we need to invite one another into a connection so that we can be reminded of what it means to live as people, without any of the social and political labels we’ve gotten so used to using on ourselves and on each other. I’m not talking about going door to door like my brave little friends did that morning (although if that’s your thing, go for it). I’m talking about something as simple as eye contact, a smile, a sincere greeting. I’m talking about holding the door for the next person, or introducing yourself to the stranger you’re sitting next to at church or the neighbor who has shared your block for almost 10 years. I’m talking about acting on the good that we can do today, for the people within our reach, with the time and energy that we have been given. This can’t be done digitally. There is no algorithm that can simulate the human experience. The only way to do this is by bringing our flesh-and-blood selves out into the real world, to be with other flesh-and-blood people. We need to knock on each other’s doors and, little by little, invite each other into our lives.
I told the little boys that I was very glad they came, and I really was. I told them that I will be praying for them, and I asked them to pray for me. The serious little boy nodded his head; the redhead smiled at me happily. I watched them walk off into the sunshine, on their way to invite my other neighbors to their community. I closed my front door, but I felt another door swing wide open – the door of my heart, where the memory of those three smiling kids will continue to live, knocking on the door, with an invitation. And now, I’m passing along that invitation to you.