Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:2
We’ve been visiting a church in a neighboring town where we are encouraged by the sermons. It’s such a comfort to be able to attend somewhere and not suffer from PTSD. My hearts desire is to become a part of a local church and serve in whatever capacity God has for me. My husband voices the same desire. But here’s the but. It may seem silly or ridiculous, but I still get the sense from those around me that they have their act together better than I do. I know it’s ridiculous, but is it really considering what we’ve been through? I looked over the different community groups available on the church website. Then I looked up some of the people on Facebook hosting the groups so I’d know who they were. As Facebook often does, I walk away with the impression that every family is healthy and happy. But then I realize if you looked at my Facebook photos you’d get the same impression. So it’s really not a very good way to get to know someone. Last Sunday the new assistant pastor and his wife were sitting behind us and introduced themselves. They were friendly and accepting. We talked to them for several minutes. It was comforting to have a real conversation with someone at church. It caused me to miss the fellowship I once had.
As I sit here now thinking about the community groups I realize I’m scared to death to go anywhere. I fear another negative experience I had like in the last ladies Bible study. I don’t think I can bear to sit in another group of women and feel like I’m the only one who doesn’t have their act together. I remind myself it’s just going to take time to heal…That as I get to know others I’ll find out they are all just like me struggling as broken people in a broken world.
But being in the place I am – a hurting person in a new community I have a better understanding than I ever did on what it feels like to be a stranger in a strange world. I think of all the times visitors came to my former church and how I forced myself to go over and speak with them sometimes. I’m so glad that I did now, because I know how important it really is.
I wonder why do we struggle so much in the church to reach out to be people. Many churches are full on days like Easter and Christmas, but other times of the year attendance is lacking. Many of those twice a year visitors don’t ever seem to make it back. I read a recent article before Easter that talked about ways to get visitors to come back after Easter. The main way was for people to reach out to visitors and make them feel welcome.
I find myself praying that others would reach out to us more at church. I think about what a tremendous encouragement it’d be if one person would ask us to lunch. I also think about how helpful it’d be to have a group just for all the new people. One of the churches I follow online has a small group geared towards those struggling with different issues. This, too, would be a tremendous encouragement.
In our family’s current circumstances it’s so easy to see what the needs are for visitors in a church. I’ve never had this perspective before, and I pray I never forget what it feels like to be where I am.
I hope that one day I can look back on this time and remember how it felt and be encouraged to reach out. I hope to be at that time a member of a church I can call home, and someone who’s survived a very painful time. May I never forget what this pain felt like and feel compassion for others who are hurting and be a support for them during a difficult time. May I not be afraid of others messiness or getting my hands dirty. May God give me the grace to reach out to those new people that come our way and help them to feel welcome.
I think of all the things in my former church that caused me to rush out the door without greeting a new person – A growling stomach, the yearning for a nap, plans to go to a movie with a friend. Nothing that was so important, yet I walked right by them without a word or a smile. I realize now on the other side of things how important these things are. So if you are a part of a local church and you see someone new take the time to at least smile. It really does make a difference. And if someone is hurting don’t be afraid to take the time to just listen and reach out, that goes a long way, too.
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. John 13:34 & 35