Tennis shoes, Ugg boots, Converses, and flip flops litter the entryway. It’s the typical yet eclectic assortment of footwear for those of us who live in Southern California, where it’s mild for most of the year with the occasional staccato notes of actual cold and hot. They look so happy all jumbled together on the tile floor, and I snap a photo to remember the feeling of the moment: full. The boisterous laughter from the adult table that comes from a lifetime of knowing each other, the gaggle of children running back and forth through the hallway screaming with delight, the silver disposable trays filled with barbecued meats and sides lined up on the kitchen countertop — the house is full in every sense of the word, and in that moment, I know if I let myself really feel the overwhelming love I’m witnessing, I’ll burst into tears.
Now, the entryway is tidy, with shoes lined up along the wall. It’s been too long since we’ve been able to bring the extended family together with the deaths of both grandparents this past year and because of COVID. With grandma and grandpa gone, it feels like we’re strings loosely strung together, slowly unraveling in the wind. Perhaps we’re not ready to be together because it will force us to face the grief yet again. Perhaps they were what kept us tight, and we need to find new ways to weave ourselves back toward one another again. Perhaps we don’t know how to simply be and enjoy each other’s presence because the last few times we had gathered were for mourning and not rejoicing.
I long for nearness again with people — to sit in coffee shops for hours and spend too much time wondering about the couple sitting next to me instead of writing, to tilt my head back and laugh out loud without worrying about the amount of bacteria erupting from my mouth, to freely embrace friends instead of elbow bumping each other out of caution. Nearness feels like a luxury, a dream for later days, the answer to my children’s prayer at every meal: “God, please make the coronavirus go away.”
I have such few words when I pray these days, so I simply repeat the same words again and again: Lord, Lord, Lord, be near, be near, be near. Again and again, I ask for His presence to penetrate through hospital walls, isolated minds or tension-filled relationships, like the time Jesus showed up in the upper room to a group of frightened disciples. I ask for the miraculous, knowing that many today are like those disciples — alone, unsure, and stuck inside a room. His nearness didn’t make sense to them, so Jesus invited them to touch and see His hands and feet, to give Him something to eat because He was real and not a ghost.
Luke 24:41 says, “[The disciples] still did not believe it because of joy and amazement,” and I wonder if they were like me these days, squeezing the arms of the few friends I’ve seen in person, saying, “You’re real. You’re here. We’re here.”
It’s no wonder that we long for nearness because God came near to us first. He walked in the Garden of Eden with Adam at the beginning of time and then sent His Son to be born as a baby so He could make His dwelling among us (John 1:14). We weren’t only created for community but also for the physical nearness that being in community provides. Being with each other is a taste of God Emmanuel.
One day, I hope we can jump up and down while hugging each other not just because we’re vaccinated but because we just don’t have to worry about getting sick anymore. One day, I hope rubbing shoulders with strangers again and seeing their whole faces will remind us that we’re fellow human beings navigating complicated lives, that we’re more than tiny, smiling icons on a social media profile. One day, I hope the entryway gets filled with shoes haphazardly strewn about — a reminder that we are here, together, alive, and real.Leave a Comment