When Ben and I are both at home, our cell phones connect so that if someone calls one of us, both phones ring. I will glance at the phone but won’t answer if I think the caller is seeking Ben. This strategy works fine when the caller is a work colleague of Ben’s, but not as well when it’s someone we both know. At times, Ben has answered and been greeted by someone who is confused about why I didn’t pick up. A couple of times Ben’s mom has asked, “why are you answering Tina’s phone?” We both find it mildly annoying that the phones sync at home, but not enough to find out how to fix it.
Recently though, this cell phone connection reminded me of another connection. In the Bible, Jesus says, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Matt 18:20. This verse usually provides encouragement to me, but I’ve also found it somewhat confusing. I believe that God is with each of us all of the time, individually, in our hearts, minds, and souls. So, if God is with each of us, why did Jesus also note that he would be with a couple or group if they were gathered together in his name?
The other day, during this time of social distancing, I was feeling blue. While most days have been fine, I’ve found that some days leave me feeling down due to missing friends and activities. In an effort to feel a little better, I decided to search for a box from one of our church’s annual women’s retreats. We cancelled the one scheduled for this March because of Covid-19, so I thought that perhaps this old box would give me some comfort. We’d created and decorated these particular boxes to hold lists or items for “In Case of Emergency” situations. In the box, I’d made a list of things to do when I wasn’t feeling my best, which included writing, taking a walk, or getting rest. I’d also made a list of people for whom I was grateful. I didn’t think it had been that long since we’d had this particular retreat, but much to my surprise it had been many years as evidenced by the fact that my seven-year old son Alex hadn’t even been born yet.
As I dug through the box, I found notes from women of the church who’d attended that retreat. These notes were encouraging, sweet, and full of kindness. They lifted my spirits all these years later. A couple were written by friends who’ve since passed away. I miss them and cherish these tangible reminders of our friendships. Most of the women are still in my life and others have come along side us in the last few years. We live in community with one another as part of the church. We teach Sunday School and Bible studies for the adults and the children; we worship and sing together; pray for one another; help each other during times of need; laugh and cry with each other; we invest in one another’s lives. My life would be less rich without these women. Thankfully, I also retain similar relationships with others whom I’ve met at churches or church related organizations in other places where I’ve lived in the past.
When Jesus talked about being present for people who gather in his name, I think he meant the types of relationships I have with my church friends. He is the overarching connection between us like the invisible force that synced Ben’s phone to mine. He is the reason that most of those women and I know each other. He is the tie that bound us together initially, and he helped us deepen those relationships over time. There is something special that grows from God’s presence in these relationships. And the wonderful truth is God can form those bonds for any of us, whether we are entering a church family for the first time in our lives or have been attending churches for years.
God is with us individually, yes, but he also forms the connection for his faithful community. I miss my Church family during this time of isolation. But because I know our connection was formed while we were gathered in God’s name, I know we remain connected during our physical absence from one another. And we will rejoice when we can gather once again in Jesus’ name.
Wonderful and timely words. Thanks for sharing and synching us all up.