I was in the library catching up with some young friends from church last Monday. They’re friends of mine, and also friends of my siblings, who are about their age.
I decided it was time for me to go and do my next thing. Being the very easily disorganised sort, my mind was going: “right, time is 1:53, got book, check, got bag, check, right, okay, need to walk to the librarian’s desk, check out this book and walk to X’s house before 2. Okay, right, let’s do this!” Very checklist, very task-orientated, very focussed.
As I’m striding out to the librarian’s desk, my sister’s friend (I think she’s about 9) walked up and put her hand on my arm, much like she does with my sister. It was very clear (in hindsight) that she was about to say something, some light conversation. In fact, I think she was taking a breath to talk when I told her I was heading off.
Immediately I realised she had just been about to say something (no idea what) which would have been a good, friendly chat, which I had plenty of time to stop and chat for. But now that I had declared my intention to be gone, the opportunity for this chat was gone too.
She just said “Oh okay bye!” and I headed out. I walked out kicking myself.
I mean, really, it’s no big deal. I didn’t rudely interrupt her, or cut her dead, or ignore her. And there’s plenty of time to chat other times. It was just an unfortunate (mis)timing of communication. If I had paused for a moment longer, she would have said her thing, and we would have had a good conversation. It’s those types of nothing-chats that build friendships. And that’s something I want to encourage with all my friends.
It’s happened a few times to me. I become so task-orientated or so focused on this “thing” that I am too slow to pick up the signals the other person is sending out. I’d be more than happy to respond to those signals so it’s not as if I’m trying to ignore them. I’m just not intentionally seeking them out therefore I miss them. This may be a social accident, but it’s not an accident I want to have.
It sounds like an impossible ask but I think this is the solution: if you are always, always, looking out for a chance to strengthen a friendship or build someone up, then your mind is ready to notice the opportunities.
When I think of all the wonderful older people in my life, who have such a friendly, relational approach to life, who mean so much to me I realise that’s the attitude they have. When I say “oh it’s so good talking to Mr Jones, he always has time for me” he really does “always have time” to build his relationship with me. He’s always ready to switch from “task” to “people”.
And when I realise just how much my friendship with those relational people means to me, I want to have that attitude too- so that I can make that switch from task to people too.