Last winter I went on a retreat at Saint Meinrad Archabbey in Southern Indiana. After a day or two of being cloistered, I felt the need to get out. I scrolled through the limited options of eateries on my phone and decided on a rural bar who boasted the best pork tenderloins around. Pulling up, I felt like I stepped out of time and into another era. A neon Budweiser sign, a jukebox playing some sad country love song, and a “Gone Fishing” insignia all made me glad I chose this place.
The waitress came over and gave me a menu. We chatted a bit and then she went back to the kitchen. As I read through the options, I noticed an item I’d never seen on any restaurant’s menu before—turtle soup!. When she came back, I asked about it and told her my grandpa used to trap turtles and loved when Grandma made soup. She explained that it was now illegal to trap turtles but every once in a while someone would bring one by and they’d make the soup rather than let it go to waste. Thrifty Hoosiers!
No one had brought the contraband in that week, so I settled on the tenderloin sandwich. When she came back later to check on me, she asked what I was doing in the area. (My guess is that they didn’t get a lot of outsiders.) I told her about being on retreat. Then she told me about wanting to get out of the small town, but kept getting dragged back in. I listened to her. She listened to me. And it felt good. It felt human and meaningful.
After I said goodbye and told her I’d be back for the turtle soup someday, I drove off thinking about what had just happened. Then it dawned on me: It’s easier to be curious and engaged with a stranger than it is with those I’ve known most of my life.
Her life was a blank page, so I had little assumptions and had to ask questions and really listen if I was to get to know her. Compare that to, for instance, my parents, who I’ve known all my life. I assume I know all there is to know about them—that I’ve got them all figured out and there’s nothing new to discover about their past or present.
I’m still trying to navigate this strange malady that can settle over comfortable, familiar, life-long relationships. And so I’ve begun to wonder:
How do I stay curious?
How do I let go of my assumptions that I know everything there is to know about someone?
Do I even want to expend the time or energy to find out what else there is to know?
And what of staying curious about God? How do I remain open to being surprised, of letting go of my assumptions that I’ve got God figured out? What would happen if I were to ask my most curious questions of God and then listen for God’s reply? In fact, I wonder if approaching God as a stranger might be a good way to keep things fresh. Something to ponder, along with turtle soup.