A few weeks ago, I made a post on Facebook joking about text conversations I’d recently had with my mom. “Admittedly our conversation topics are more limited in these quarantine days,” I wrote. I shared a few of our texting topics: a selfie of my good hair day, a report on which cleaner was most effective in the removal of mildew from an outdoor carpet, and an opinion on the decor choices of a rental home we once stayed at. Parents are experts at hearing about the mundane parts of their children’s lives; at least I say so from my own experience. I’ve always appreciated my mom’s willingness to listen to me chatter away, but the pandemic has given me a new perspective.
As my text conversations allude to, there is not as much to share with my mom as “normal” life would have previously allowed. My day-to-day pretty much consists of walking my dog, working from home, running, cooking dinner, keeping my house clean, and a few pockets of time to read a book, watch a show, or call a friend. Sometimes, I feel dreadfully dull. I almost feel bad calling my mom, realizing I have such little to offer in terms of entertainment that I might as well skip the call in hopes that something a bit more interesting happens either to me or to the world that we then can converse about. But usually, I don’t wait more than 3 or 4 days to call my mom again, asking her what she’s been up to lately, sharing any updates I have, or wondering aloud to each other about various questions relating to public life or public health. Anyone listening in would probably be quite bored, but the perspective I’ve gained in this pandemic is that that isn’t the point of my relationships.
The older I get, the more I realize how much I love to be entertained. As a child, I grew up with entertaining brothers, in a busy household with packed schedules and varying opinions. We had newspapers and magazines and books spilling over side tables and lively conversation around the dinner table. If someone wasn’t entertaining me, I was entertaining myself with a project, a plan, or an assignment. I’m not trying to say here that entertainment is bad, but I am seeing that my inclination to move towards it has twisted it into a shape it was never meant to be.
Relationships were not designed to be entertainment. The creation story in Genesis doesn’t see God making things because he wants himself or his creation to be entertained—”It is not good for the man to be alone,” God says. Eve is created as a helper to Adam, a companion, a contributor in the act of caring.
This pandemic has been teaching me a lot about relationships. About my relationships, too. Do I only engage with those who will entertain me? Do I only extend myself when I know I’ll get something in return? Do I avoid the dull, bypass the boring, become careless in my lack of curiosity? Do I say it is good for me to be alone because I’m an introvert, or because I’m actually selfish and set on accomplishing my own agenda?
These pandemic days are teaching me much about what it means to be a caring person in my relationships. I think a caring person calls even when it seems that there might not be much to share. A caring person asks questions, even if there may be an unpleasant answer or a drawn-out response that may be dull or distressing or a little of both. A caring person is curious, thinking of ways to go beyond the surface, beyond the day-to-day, to ask and see and know stories from the past and dreams for the future.
I think curiosity is one of the greatest acts of care we can show another. Cultivating curiosity for those around us—even when we’re at our dullest—is a beautiful, life-giving, and loving thing. I’ve also found it to bring about delightfully surprising results. I think the more curious we get about each other, the more we’ll find hidden below the surface. People and situations are much more complex than we often perceive, full of stories and facts and opinions that we often forget to consider or inquire on because our gaze is drawn to something else, something we perceive as more entertaining. While other people or places may beckon us to lend them our attention, I’m seeing the value in fixing my attention on those of whom the Lord has put me in the Garden with, so to say.
Just as the Lord knew it was not good for Adam to be alone, he knows the same for me. So he gave me a mother to call on an ordinary Tuesday, a father who can enjoy that bluegrass tune I discovered the other day. He gave me brothers to send funny YouTube links to and sister-in-laws to exchange recipes with. He gave my college friends working from home and working through problems, a roommate with stories to share from a past I knew very little of and never asked about. Sometimes these conversations may look dull to an outsider, but I’m beginning to see that perhaps that’s part of loving well. Loving well means loving through all the parts of life–the exciting and entertaining days and the days where it looks like little has transpired.
But on the days where it seems there’s not much to share, I know that just below the surface is a complex person, a magnificent creation. Within their minds are stories of childhood, memories of days so different from now, lessons learned and wisdom to impart. “Am I boring you?” they might ask, worried that they’re not adding value in the interaction. As they ask that question, I hope I can hear it with curious ears, with a heart that desires to extend love more than be entertained, with a spirit that sees them as the Father sees them: made in his image, and made very good, indeed.