I’m sitting on some round, concrete ledge, facing a bubbling fountain, lost in the historic ward of Milwaukee because I can never seem to remember where I’ve parked my car. But that’s okay. I’ve taken out my journal with some listening-prayer prompts from my desert team leader, hoping that I can hear something from God as I lose myself in this city. As I clutch my journal in my lap, I think about what others might see when they look at this girl in leggings and a pineapple t-shirt, her eyes shut and bag full of books at her side.
Then I remember that it’s likely nobody sees me or wonders what I’m doing here. Or what I’m doing with my life, for that matter. Just like I don’t wonder about them. We’ve all got enough in our own brains and our own relationships to worry about, right? So I wonder if maybe God wants me to open my eyes back up, and connect with him by actually seeing what’s around me. I stumble into that realization that we probably all have at times, that each of these bodies around me is a soul too. Each one has a story – a past, present and future.
I think of the construction workers, who sat at a picnic table next to where I was reading, to take their lunch break. How one of them told the other, “I love to just sit out here and see all the nice people walk by.” I wonder what kind of big heart and love the the sacredness of human life is behind that comment.
I think of the art school students passing by the coffee shop I was in earlier, who I recognized by their pink hair, cat t-shirts, and other eccentric styles. I wonder what projects they’re working on and how they see their creations as their unique take on the world. A reflection of their inner selves.
I think of the young couple that walks past as I write, about the child inside that they’ll be bringing into the world in a month or two. I wonder what dreams they have for that baby, and what histories and values shape their idea of family.
Maybe it takes getting lost in a big city and having no pressing goals to prompt me to look outside of myself. To notice, really take note of, the people around me. I don’t know if I can yet put my finger on the purpose of this. If I’m not going to talk to them, if they’re not going to become a part of my life, what is the point of wondering about them? I suppose I’m okay with not knowing right now. I’m sure as God continues to transform me, he’ll show me why he wants me to get outside of myself every once in a while. Maybe he’ll even let me linger in that state someday. Maybe I’ll be able to be more like him, who although he holds all life and all possibility in himself, he sees us. He doesn’t just wonder about us, he knows us. When I first opened my eyes to those around my today, these words immediately came to mind:
When I look at the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:3-4)
It’s amazing to reflect on these words and remember that, inexplicably, God cares about little-old-me. But there is more power in these words when I realize that God cares about these men on their lunch break near me, these art students, that young couple. He’s not just weaving together my story, but theirs’ too.
And now as I think about this some more, I am realizing that I’ve seen more than a handful of the people I noticed this morning, somehow brought back into my line of vision from blocks before and hours earlier. I know this is just one small neighborhood of one city, but maybe the world isn’t so big after all? Maybe noticing stories happening around us can and should enrich our own. Maybe when we let our vision grow a little bit bigger than our own lives, a little bit closer to the size of God’s vision, we’ll learn something. We’ll actually believe that He doesn’t just see a ton of tiny humans bustling around like busy ants in the little ant-hill cities we made for ourselves. We’ll realize that we’re actually billions of intricate, complicated stories, each as important and loved as the next. I want to learn to remember every day that this same God who put the stars into place not only cares about me (crazy enough to think about) but cares about that group of girls crossing the street right now, that guy with the rubber-duck-patterned shirt passing me, the older couple leaving that restaurant over there. What a big God, and I thank him that when my eyes close to the world around me, his always stay open, knowing and loving each one of us.