The Bubble Effect
When my wife and I first got married we lived in and around Chicago. At one point we lived out in the western suburbs, but I was going to school on the north end of the city. To get up to Evanston you had to ride a train into the city and then transfer to a different train and ride up out of the city again. As a student it was handy, because I would spend HOURS multiple times a week on public transit of one type or another - which was the perfect time to get my readings done, or just listen to music or even… on rare occasions, I would actually interact with the humans around me on the train. Now, the reader must understand - I have always been an extroverted person. I LOVE meeting new people and learning all about their story. Of course I’ll have an off day when I’m busy or stressed or grumpy - and I just want to put in my headphones and tune out the world. But MOST of the time, I’d much rather chat with someone than sit by myself. I only lived in Chicago for a few years, but I rode public transit hundreds of times and I noticed something I want to share with you.
Everyone that is out in public walks around inside their own little bubbles. We do this thing - whether it’s in the grocery store, on the subway platform, or standing in line at the DMV. We have an unspoken agreement as a culture that “you do your thing over there, and I will do my thing over there.” We are happy inside our little bubbles - they make us feel comfortable, they make us feel secure. Headphones are probably one of the best tools of the bubble. I’m convinced that’s one of the primary reasons young people have gone BACK to the huge headsets, instead of the tiny earbuds. A big headset is a fantastic protective barrier - like a bullet-proof bubble.
But I have another observation I want to share with you. Bubbles are very easy to pop, and actually most of us are absolutely desperate to have our bubble popped. As human beings we CRAVE connection. We want very much to be closer to the people around us. We want someone to ask about us, who we are and what we care about. We want to be valued, to share a connection - even if it’s over something stupid like the weather. Now, don’t get me wrong - there are, of course, exceptions. Women want creepy men to leave them alone. When we are busy or stressed or having a bad day - sometimes we just want to be left alone. But other than those exceptional moments - most people are actually happy to have their bubble popped.
I know this because I try to make it a habit. I love to pop the bubble and strike up a conversation with someone. A few weeks ago, there was a woman who came into the coffee shop where I was working on my computer. She had a little girl in tow and was clearly pregnant. Now, my wife is also pregnant, and even though we are planning a home birth - I saw a connection point. I asked, “Excuse me, I’m so sorry to interrupt - we just moved to the area and my wife is pregnant and I was wondering - do you have any recommendations on best pediatric or pregnancy providers?” (I want the clever readers to see that I did NOT in any way, shape or form, ask the woman if she was pregnant, even though she was). Her face lit right up, and it turns out that she had some great recommendations AND she just so happened to attend a church up the road from my church, and I knew her pastor (a colleague of mine). All it took was one little question, and *pop* the bubble disappeared and connections were made. Sometimes there are no connections. It’s a momentary interaction that’s there one second and gone as soon as I walk away. But there’s value in those little connections.
Almost every single aspect of modern life is designed to make the bubble stronger, to keep us isolated and disconnected. Social media encourages us to live inside our phones, with these little echo chambers of people who think and act just like us. I think we have a responsibility to push back against that current. I want to challenge you - take a second, ask the question, pop the bubble. Make a comment on the weather. Ask the barista or the waitress for their favorite recommendation (even if you know what you want to order). Be open with your story (without being overbearing), and I think you’ll be surprised by how many people are eager to be open with their own story.
And I’m not just saying, “hey everyone, you should be more extroverted.” What I’m trying to say is that the person who is sitting in the empty train car on the red line on the other side of the aisle - they might be having a rough day, and you might be able to make it a little better. The bubble is safe and secure, but it’s also super lonely. As Christians, I find we can even take it to another level with people we interact with regularly. In our day to day life, we often find ourselves living in a rhythm. We get coffee at the same time at the same place each morning, or we buy groceries on the same day and get in the same line - and maybe that means we run into the same people over and over. Maybe these people aren’t your best friends, you may not know their name - but they know your face (they might even know our order by heart). In those situations, I want to challenge you to pop the bubble.
For example, I spend a lot of time in coffee shops - and over time I get to know the people working behind the counter. Sometimes I ask how their days going, and sometimes they ask what I’m doing on my computer. I always explain that I’m a pastor doing pastor stuff - and once they know I’m a Christian, I say something along the lines of, “hey, I don’t know if you’re religious or whatever - but you know I’m a Christian, and praying is something we do. I’d like to pray for you, is there anything going on in your life you’d like me to pray for?” And let me tell you, when you come back - and you ask "hey, I've been praying for this thing that you mentioned - how is that going?" People are blown away to see that you actually care.
Now, I know, I know. The alarm bells are ringing because I’ve entered into the weird. That would be so awkward to say - but from personal experience let me tell you: even non-church people usually respond by opening up about their story. They APPRECIATE the question. It is possible to be intentional with the relationships around you, WITHOUT being a total weirdo with it. People usually LIKE having the bubble popped, people usually LIKE being able to connect with a real live human being in front of them.
I guess what I’m saying with all this talk of bubbles and reaching into people’s lives - is that I want to challenge you to actually DO what Jesus taught us to DO. Love your neighbor. It doesn’t have to be some grand gesture - sometimes it’s just looking over at the stranger on the train, and asking, “hey, how’s your day going?” Simple, right?