Awkward Encounters

Pursuring Biblical Intentionality

The following is a lightly edited blog post that I originally wrote for my seminary.

I lead a small group in downtown Minneapolis, and we are going through an eight-week study on various ways to care for other souls. This past week centered on the fact that because Jesus pursues us, we ought to pursue others in earnest, intentional ways. And after the group listed several reasons why we might be slow to pursue others, someone said something along the lines of, “Well, it’s just awkward sometimes.” And I found myself saying first, “Yes, that is true!” And then, “Wait. What does ‘awkward’ really mean? And what does it say about our relationships with people?”

What's Awkward?

In an email that my wife sent to our small group, she winsomely captured “awkwardness.” She writes, 

“If something is ‘awkward’ it usually means it somehow doesn't ‘fit.’ That can be in many contexts: clothing that doesn't fit feels awkward, sentences with incorrect grammar sound awkward, one crooked picture hung on a wall with a bunch of straight ones looks awkward. In the same way, I think we tend to think of people as awkward if they stick out from most other people around them in some way (speech, appearance, social interactions, etc.) And as several of us said, things that differ from the ‘norm’ can make us feel uncomfortable.”

So, what might not be “awkward” to one person just might be awkward to another. One brother in my small group said, “Sometimes we describe an entire person as awkward because their speech, appearance, social interaction, etc. diverge from what we typically are comfortable associating with.” And we often even avoid awkwardness—even if it is an entire person—to preserve our comfortability. Therefore, it’s readily manifest that embracing awkwardness isn’t natural; it takes effort, work, often lots of time, and perhaps most importantly, humility.

Christ Leads the Way

And as those who consider ourselves followers of Christ—the very Christ who fully embraced awkwardness to greet the foreigner, despite all of the effort, work, time, and suffering he would experience (Phil 2:2–8)—we follow his footsteps. Embracing awkwardness takes divine humility; your needs become secondary as you consider the other person more than yourself. “[I]n humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil 2:3–4).

We aren’t after small mere talk; rather, we want biblical intentionality. Christ is intentional with us, and he really knows the various struggles and weaknesses we all face (Heb 4:15). He knows this because he’s been through it already. Biblical intentionality that embraces awkwardness will seek to not only the basics of a person (e.g., name, ethnicity, hometown, etc.), but the inner-nuances of their soul (e.g., personality, various interests, personal struggles with sins, strengths, etc.).

Lean into Awkwardness

If you live in America, then see the harvest of souls that has come into your country; God has scattered thousands of people—I'm thinking primarily of refugees fleeing war, but this applies to all people: your neighbors, cowokers, spouse, children, etc.—right into our own back yards! Their cultures and customs might not "fit" with what you're comfortable with, but yours most likely do not fit with theirs either. So, break the "awkwardness" by leaning into awkwardness, and getting to know them. That is, seek the specific details of their lives: names, background, ambitions, family life, religious values, etc. Stay connected with them, and invest yourself into their lives. And in this small way we can become beacons of Christ to those around us as God helps us pursue such intentional, awkward encounters.