My daughter Joy is a fitness trainer, and she would be the first to tell you the importance of stretching both before and after a workout. In fact, the Harvard Health newsletter noted, “Stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong, and healthy, and we need that flexibility to maintain a range of motion in the joints. Without it, the muscles shorten and become tight.” Just as stretching is vital for the healthy functioning of our muscles, so stretching is vital to the social structure of our society and to our own personal well-being.
Our body’s muscles shorten and become tight without stretching, and in a similar way we can become short-sighted and inflexible when we choose to only interact with people who look like us and think like us. Sure we love to cling to what we already know and love. That’s fun and safe! But if we really want to build bridges of unity in our cities and communities, we need to open up and be willing to have conversations beyond our own cultural circle.
Stretching may look different for each of us. Just as some find it stretching to talk to a new neighbor or employee, while others may find it stretching to begin a conversation with a woman at the check-out line at the grocery store or a waiter at the restaurant. There are opportunities all around us to reach beyond our comfort circle and engage with someone new, whether it is at work or in your neighborhood or school or city.
In his book, Welcome Homeless, Alan Graham reminds us that we are all born for relationship. He writes, “To see people, we have to engage. We have to get out of our cars and talk to people. To understand the street, we have to walk the street…You can’t understand the heart of people from a car. You’ve got to get out of the car. You’ve got to crawl on your hands and knees. You’ve got to make desperate attempts to truly connect and learn someone’s story.” Through his work with the homeless community in Austin, Texas, Alan Graham is stretching others to go beyond the comfortable.
And that’s what stretching does, it makes us slightly uncomfortable, but it strengthens us and makes us healthy as human beings. We become fully alive as we step beyond what is easy and reach into the lives of others. Where do you need to stretch? Where do you need to start a conversation?
Alan Graham, Welcome Homeless, (Nashville, TN: W Publishing, 2017) pp. 16 -17.