I have social gathering anxiety. The thought of a “meet and greet” causes anxiety and sweaty palms. I know many of you identify. Just the thought of making small talk with strangers… excuse me while I go breathe into a paper bag.
A while ago I was in church. After a few songs we all paused to “turn and greet those around you”. Afterwards I whispered to my husband, “If we ever pastor a church, this will be the first thing to go.” He smiled, agreeing, but also knowing that it’s my absolute least favorite part of church. Randomly greeting people I don’t know is not my idea of a good time.
A few weeks ago I was reading through the Gospel of John and came across these words of Jesus:
“I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you.”
I paused and thought long and hard about this simple promise of Jesus.
He will come to us. He will move towards us. He will seek us out.
Who? Those who have been left behind, abandoned, excluded. Those who are not yet part of the family. Those who are grieving and mourning a deep loss.
Isn’t this such a characteristic of Jesus: taking initiative and going towards others. This is opposed to passively waiting for people to come towards Him. Jesus says, “I will come to you”.
When He does, I should then find others and go towards them.
I want to do that, even with my sweaty palms and awkward questions. I don’t want to find out there are those without “family” around me and I never went towards them. Not because I feel guilty but because Jesus came to me and that made all the difference in the world.
What about you? Who are those “orphans” among and around you? Here’s a few ideas.
It should make us severely uncomfortable to see people who are not brought in and included. When you are in any gathering, seek out those who have not been included. Move towards them and find ways to bring them in. Let there be no strangers among you, because that is the promise of Jesus to us.
Moral failure, professional failure, relational failure. When someone is walking a road of failure, the condemnation is heavy. It is so easy to resort to callous, “Well, if they made this mess, they will have to clean it up! If they want help they should ask!” We need to find ways to seek these people out.
For a long time, if I knew someone that had messed up badly I would tend to leave them alone. After all, my reasoning went, I didn’t want to embarrass them further. I didn’t realise how wrong I was. No matter how embarrassing and awkward, consistently reaching out with a simple visit, phone call or text message is powerful to those struggling to find their way.
Grieving people are not just those who have experienced death. It can be anyone who is in a season of loss. A loss of a loved one. Those going through divorce. The experience of a broken relationship. A parent who is watching their child walk a path that is inflicting great pain and damage on their life. Those who have just experienced a mis-carriage.
In times like this we should not wait for them to ask for what they need (although they could). Find ways to move towards them, seeking them out often and gently.
This is specifically for American culture. Let me tell you one thing I have learned about Americans as I’ve lived overseas. We do not like awkward people. We don’t know what to do with them, they make us uncomfortable, and we wish they would just disappear.
We will tolerate all sorts of mistreatment towards awkward people. We prefer those around us to have amazing social skills with a light touch of hilarious sarcasm. I’m convinced Jesus would seek out the awkward ones in our midst if he showed up today. We’d all be scratching our heads, confused and wondering, “Why is he wasting his time with them?” If you want to be like Jesus, don’t orphan the awkward in your midst, go towards them.
What about you? Do you take opportunities to go towards the orphans in your midst? Who could use some of your initiative in their life right now?