One of regular parts of life for me is the daily trip to the local YMCA. (Okay, let's be honest: It's a time I make about four or five times a week... not daily!)
After awhile you begin to notice the other "regulars." There is Betty, the woman who sits at the registration desk and "buzzes" us through the locked doors. It took me awhile to win her over with my enthusiastic "Good morning, Betty" greeting. But after a few months she started smiling and making sure I had the best towel in the stack to use after my shower. There is Dick, the retiree, who monitors the Cybex (light weights) room and the cardio area (stairclimbers and treadmills and other cool stuff). There is Ernie, the ex-Navy guy who is in his mid 70's and steps carefully, painfully, onto and off of the machines.
And there is another guy. I'll call him "Thomas." Thomas runs the laundry at the Y. He picks up the towels from the locker rooms. He replaces soap in the dispensers in the showers. He cleans out the drains when they're clogged.
I've been going to the Elkhart Y for more than 12 years, and it wasn't until about 8 months ago that I learned Thomas' name. When I would see him I would say, "Good morning, Thomas." Or I would thank him for what he does, "Thanks for taking care of the towels and the shower room, Thomas." And when I would be on my way out I'd say, "Have a good day, Thomas."
What did I get back? Nothing. Maybe a grunt. But usually nothing.
Then, a week ago, he walked up behind me and said, "How are you doing?" I didn't say anything because I thought he was talking to another guy standing nearby. Then, I realized he was talking to me!
For the last week every time he sees me, Thomas says, "Good morning." Or, "How are you doing?" Or, "Have a good day."
I am sort of surprised. I didn't think our relationship was ever going to move off a grunt. Not get to this place.
I've been thinking about this all day. Since this morning when Thomas asked, again, how I was doing.
It's a reminder, I think, that sometimes "How are you doing?" takes time. Relationships require patience. You just keep plugging away.
Sort of like putting out a humming bird feeder. You get it all set out, just right, but nothing happens. You keep cleaning the feeder, mixing the sugar and water, filling it up, and watching...waiting. It seems like a silly, hopeless thing to do. Then, oneday, you notice this small bird hovering, darting, moving, feeding.
In my line of work we encourage people to reach out to other people. Take the initiative in showing care and interest. Listening to the other person's life. In my line of work -as a pastor- we nudge people to build relationships, and invite others to swing by our church and give our donuts and coffee, our love and heart, our groups and worship, a try. "Go make disciples," we say quoting Matthew 28. "Go tell others."
I know it can be a frustrating thing. You mention to your lunch buddy, every year in November, the possibility of coming to Christmas Eve worship with you. You talk to kid on the soccer team about youth fellowship or summer camp. Nothing. Nada. (Is that how you spell that?) You feel like you are in a rowboat and you are nudging an iceberg the size of Texas.
Maybe it never moves. Maybe nothing changes.
Or, maybe, oneday you turn around and Thomas is saying, "How are you doing?"