Sustenance for The Spirit
Small town living has advantages and disadvantages, and sometimes the disadvantages become advantages, and vice versa. I enjoy living in a small town, even if there is no hope of a large shopping center or a variety of grocery stores. Something I have often heard mentioned more in a negative light is that in a small town, everyone knows everyone else’s business. And while that is often the source of contention, it can also be a good thing. This small town phenomena could be translated into a form of accountability, which is something we all need in our lives. I find that obvious measures of accountability, like grades in school or a paycheck for a job, fall short in contrast to less obvious accountability measures, like small town, or fishbowl, accountability.
This observation was driven home recently as I spent time at the bedside of my husband after a surgery, in our small town hospital. The people that tended to him were often individuals we had at least seen in other settings, and some we had met, not realizing what their work role was. It is comforting to be among acquaintances and friends while in an unusual environment, like a hospital. Another observation I made, in contrast to the big city hospital experience, was that some of the nurses and therapy people would be the same ones who we would be seeing after being sent home. It’s nice to know that we’ll be seeing familiar faces when we take those next steps. I had spent time with my mother in a great medical facility in a much larger city a couple of years prior, which is why I believe I noticed this intangible difference. If I’m going to run into one of our nurses at the dollar store, we want it to be a positive experience. I don’t want to feel like I need to dodge behind the candy display to check out, and neither does he/she.
Life experiences are a huge piece of the puzzle of who we are. As we experience life with knowing eyes around us, it shapes us into a version of ourselves that we value higher. When we know we are likely to run into that person we encountered as a client, in a more casual setting like the grocery store, it impacts how we interact with the client. In fact, if the grocery store rendezvous occurs, we will see what’s in their basket, and that person will see what’s in my basket. We might discover we like the same ice cream, or both prefer the deli cheeses. These are small things, but can be so mighty in relationship building. And really, that’s one thing that small town living is all about, building relationships. In the city, it happens, but if you choose to disappear from social interaction it is fairly simply done…unless you just happen to live by nosy neighbors, an anomaly in the city perhaps, but an expectation in a small town.
Jesus was from a small town. In fact, the world where Jesus ministered only covered a small area. A quick search reveals that it is just under 80 miles between Capernaum and Jerusalem. If we were to drive it today it would take around two hours. Nazareth, where Jesus grew up among his earthly family, was a smaller town a few miles southwest of Capernaum, which became a sort of unofficial headquarters for Jesus’ ministry. Travel was much different in those days which created an even greater small town effect. The definition of “afar” was many miles fewer than today. When Jesus and his immediate family traveled to Jerusalem with their fellow Jewish friends and family to celebrate the Feast of the Passover, as they did annually, it puzzled me how they could leave Jerusalem to start home, not knowing that Jesus was missing from the group. As a twelve-year-old, he was found, “…in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.” (Luke 2:46–47, NIV) His parents (and whoever comprised the group referred to as “they”) searched for three days before finding Jesus, which would have sent missing person alerts to every phone within at least a fifty mile radius in our world of today. I can’t help but wonder if, upon discovery, there weren’t some eye rolls as well as relief. After twelve years of growing up around the same people, I suspect they were privy to some Jesus wanderings, physically and spiritually. Scripture does say that his parents were “astonished” (NIV) to see Him there in the temple, and there was admonishment because they had been “anxiously searching” (NIV) for Him, but Jesus’ response was a cool, calm and collected, “Why were you searching for me?…Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49, NIV)
Scriptures continue to explain that his parents didn’t understand and Jesus went back to small town Nazareth obediently, with his mother “treasuring these things,” note the plural reference. (Luke 2:51, NIV) This is only one glimpse of Jesus’ small town life. Even though the friends and neighbors observed him in the human sense, there was a spiritual formation taking place that many probably didn’t know as well. However, there were bound to be lots of little cues as Jesus grew around those in His community. He was building a reputation. Luke, chapter two, ends with, “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”(Luke 2:52, NIV) Jesus grew in a safe environment with a group of people that lived nearby, traveled together, knew each other well, and loved each other regardless of what they knew about each other.
When Jesus says a few chapters later in Luke 6:35 to “love your enemies,” and in Matthew 22:39 he explains the second greatest commandment as, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” behind the number one command to love God above everything else, He is speaking from a human life experience. Jesus understood the value of neighbors, and even enemies. He had probably observed occasions when enemies became friends, love for others becoming a solvent for broken relationships. All love is founded in God (1 John 4:16), so as Jesus grew, people observed His deep knowledge of the fact, depicted in how He himself built relationships and interacted with the human world around Him. It was a world fraught with accountability on all sides. We can all use a dose of small town eyes and ears to keep us valued, honest, vulnerable, human and loved. Keep that in mind as you see imperfections in those you go through life with, the ones you spend time with almost every day, and the ones in your community, however it may be described. We are always accountable to God, and being accountable to one another is simply a reminder.
Have a wonderful day!