You have probably had that awkward experience in an elevator. You know the one I’m talking about. The doors open wide, you enter, and you find yourself standing next to people in that eerily, uncomfortable silence as the elevator doors close behind you.
No one knows what to do. Everyone on board either pulls out their cell phones, stares down at their shoes or up at the ceiling, being careful not to exchange brief smiles or make any eye contact and avoid conversation at all costs.
This really shouldn’t be the case for us Christians, you know. After all, we should always be trying to make relational connections with strangers to point them to Jesus Christ. A recent article (2019) from the NPR (National Public Radio) asks, “Do you want to feel happier today?” The article states, not surprisingly, that based on current scientific studies even brief eye contact increased people’s sense of inclusion and belonging, and that talking to people, even strangers, betters our mood and increases our feelings of happiness.
If so, then we as Christians have more need than all to smile more, to make eye contact with people, and to speak up whether dealing with fellow Christians or others we have never met before.
One way of avoiding making relational connections is hiding behind our smartphones. Be mindful that using smartphones while relating to others sends a signal that we’re not really interested in interacting with the people around us. Not long ago, all my children were visiting Tina and I. At one point we were all sitting in the living room and I looked around, and all of us were head down in our cell phones. No one was talking. Not the way to relationally connect or communicate!
Even though cell phones can be a barrier to relating to people around us, there is one cell that could actually help us communicate with friends, casual acquaintances, and strangers much better than we normally do. I’m referring to the acronym CELL that calls upon us to do as follows:
C = Consider insightfully
E = Engage conversationally
L = Listen empathetically
L = Love unconditionally
Everyday we need to take this CELL with us. But how does it work?
First, before connecting with people, consider insightfully who you will encounter. Whether friends or strangers, Christians or not, remember the people you come in contact with come from unique backgrounds, may be dealing with current battles, or confronting present or potential burdens. How they respond and interact with you may be tainted by what’s going on in their lives with which you are not aware. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Be patient with them. Prov. 14:15 says: “a prudent man gives thought to his steps.” So, consider the people you meet insightfully!
Second, when approaching people, do so with a smile, make eye contact and greet them warmly with a “hello”, “good morning,” or “what’s up?” etc. And if opportunity permits, engage conversationally with them. Conversation starters usually involve either a question (e.g. what’s your name? how’s life treating you? what’s new in your world?) or a statement that would be of interest (e.g. how about those Cowboys! I like your jacket, great weather we’re having). But whatever you say, as Scripture says, we are to be salt and light (Matt. 5:13-16) to others, and as such our conversations should “always be seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:6), all the while letting our Christian lights shine (Matt. 5:16) to encourage whomever we may engage. So, engage the people you meet conversationally!
Third, when in conversation, listen empathetically. Empathy is the ability to identify compassionately with other people to the extent of getting into their skin metaphorically and viewing life from their perspective. The more we can identify with the people to whom we engage, the better we can understand them and communicate effectively with them. As James 1:19a says: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak . . .” So, don’t do all the talking, listen empathetically to the people you meet.
Fourth, as we consider insightfully, engage conversationally, and listen empathetically, we must throughout the process of conversation and beyond, love unconditionally. This is the kind of love God has for us and we should have for others. Thus, we should be accepting of people as people, not necessarily condoning their lifestyle, but being receptive of them, not impatient, rude, self-centered, or easily angered in our relational engagements (1 Cor. 13:4-5). So, love the people you meet unconditionally!
O.K. then. Remember, take your CELL with you daily wherever you go to avoid the potential elevator silences of life and have productive, relational connections and conversations for the glory of God with whomever you meet and wherever God so chooses to lead you.