Who’s seen the movie 50 First Dates? It is unique among “chick-flicks” because it the “chick” (Drew Barrymore) suffers from amnesia, forgetting again and again who she is and this causes the guy in the story (Adam Sandler) to learn about who he is, maybe for the first time.
The movie title popped into my head as I took time to reflect on what life has been like so far, at the eight-month mark of Diving into church ministry in this international city, where one of every three people was born abroad, has been a whirlwind of both challenging and rewarding experiences. To illustrate one big nugget of growth, let me tell you about some of the 50 first “dates” I’ve had here:
Dates with London
London appears similar to America, but as I found myself going to grocery stores, perhaps seven or so, including markets, just to get food for the week, I started to realize my life was going to feel very different. I continued to feel this way with trips on public transportation–and what a spin of a trip those were, full of expense and surprise, from sitting next to puppy dogs to being lost, to people staring and even hearing British people speaking loudly (alcohol relaxes their volume restraint and they begin to sound like the typically loud-talking American when sober). Currently and quite frequently I’ve gone on athletic dates with the parks and roads of London, having taken up running as a hobby. Getting moving has helped with the transition and it also gives a way to know the city more on foot. But I can’t get rid of this sense that I am one of the millions here, quickly forgotten by this place.
Dates with Neighbors
All the while, as I’m dating this city, first dates are in full swing with my neighbors, church members, students, the homeless in the community, my own teammates, and so, you may ask, “What’s all of this dating really like?”
It’s awkward, exhausting, and vulnerable.
Being an apprentice often feels like the guy who takes the girl out on 50 first dates only to find out, again, that she doesn’t really remember him.
“What’s your name?” “What do you do?” “What part of London do you live in?” “Where are you from?” “What’s your family like?” “What do you do in your free time?” Over and over these questions are both asked and answered, not to mention many times with language barriers (over 300 hundred languages are spoken in London!).
Having gone on a first date to some new place every day for a couple of months, I had finally discovered a few things—like where to go buy the most reasonable food and household needs, what vehicles of transportation to use, how to plan ahead and carry bags with me to the store to avoid spending five Pence for a plastic bag. Relationships were finally beginning to deepen. I was feeling a little more settled, yet was still searching. Searching for being known in this new place.
Little did I know where all of this dating was actually headed. At eight months, only weightier questions followed these first date get-to-know-you ones, probing at the strength of my own control, confronting me with the daunting “Who, really, are you?” and, “What are you doing here?”
The Vulnerability of Dating
The longer I’m here engaging in ministry in the community, the more situations arise that are extremely out of my hands. The tension of being pushed deeper into actual engagement with the brokenness of the community—and literally the world as this city’s population is multicultural—forces me to face the impossible questions of, “How do I enter into conflict?” “Enter broken relationships and communicate with hurting people?” “What does it look like to really engage with someone with whom I have little to nothing in common?” “Do I really believe that it is possible for The Light of the World to shine in the dark of homelessness, addiction, violence, illegal immigration, or spiritual apathy?”
To get real, I’ve hit a wall. It’s been painful. It’s convicting to see how I avoid and run from suffering, hurt and pain, and how my sin is ever before me with how I cope and manage the pain of fallen-ness in my own life, and the lives of others around me. I naturally close my eyes and turn away. To engage with the reality of pain has meant to touch it more, to open my eyes to see—pain in both the people around me and also the in my own life—and believe that there is One who heals.
Getting Beyond the First Date
In hitting this wall, I’ve been knocked into seeing more suffering, and how nothing that I have ever studied, created or worked for can really fix any of it.
None of my first date get-to-know-you questions work with pain.
In daring to sit with people in their pain, I find myself actually engaging with the One who heals, sharing in the sufferings that He took on. And, to my surprise, the taste of that suffering is so sweet as it beckons the billows of His love to pour into my own broken heart and cover the painful situations around me with His healing grace. I’m learning to trust the One who has been pursuing me this whole time, Whose name is Compassion. He keeps coming back and showing me who He is, again and again, even when I run to someone or something else when the pain is too much.
Through all of these first dates, I know more now how I was actually not the one doing all the work. I was being sought after by a man who pursues though I forget who He is. His name is Jesus, the compassionate and Great Physician. He is here in London, in the brokenness of the city, and tirelessly reveals His kind and healing power. For He came for those like me, hurt and sick, to call us to repentance with His kindness, to live in His abundant life of unwavering restoration.