you know who doesn’t know how to leave well enough alone? God. i was minding my own business doing my thing in life and He just had to interrupt. you know something is out of wack when God interrupts your daily routine. it started with a dinner. food is my ultimate love language. there is nothing better than enjoying the succulent, delectable goodness of food. and if you’re sharing it with someone else, all the better. it makes perfect sense that God would use food to get me distracted. sneaky.
one friday night i was able to spend time with a young lady who i am more than honored to have in my life. i think she’s pretty amazing and i always enjoy our conversation. while i hadn’t made a consistent effort to stay connected, i always intended to make our hangouts more regular. during our conversation she shared with me how i impacted her life. i was completely floored. how can you be used to speak into someone’s life and not even recognize the significance of it? it caught my attention when she said the word family. at the time, i wasn’t even sure why. i just knew that a part of my heart leapt. in that moment i committed to being consistent and intentional in nurturing our friendship because it was important.
the next morning, i made my way out to our annual church retreat for some good old tech disconnect, community socializing and outdoor adventure. i was guaranteed to go horseback-riding and kayaking, as well as participate in the standard awkward, forced bonding that happens at all retreats. it was a super early morning and i am the opposite of a morning person. even after driving for almost two hours, i was still quite grumpy. the missed opportunity to grab coffee haunted me well into the morning. thankfully, i was wide awake by the time we started worship. i was dancing with the youth band and quite excited to be a part of the worship experience. it was an awesome time.
after praise and worship, it was time to hear the word. in this semi formal environment, i was expecting more of a devotional so imagine my surprise when we got a full on sermon. this was the real, real. and then it happened. she said the f word. family. it hung in the air like a thick cloud, weighing down my heart with its imposing significance. god sets the lonely in families, she said. what does family look like, she asked. how do we become a church family instead of a church community? she was dropping f-bombs all over the place. tossing the word around all willy nilly like it was a common thing. is family that common? is it that easy? why is my heart pounding with each utterance? what in the world is happening?
god sets the lonely in families. it echoed in my ears as if she had screamed it in the depths of a hallow cave. but i’m not lonely. i have a large community. really large. i have a full social life. really full. i engage when i want to and i disengage when i don’t want to be bothered. i’m not lonely. wait, am i? do i lowkey feel uncared for? do i feel disconnected? do i feel like an outsider? where in the world was this coming from? i’m fine. really, i’m fine. if i say it enough will it squash the uprising of anxiety in my heart? i’m fine. things are how i want them. can’t we just leave well enough alone?
i wrestled with that inner turmoil during our quiet time, reflecting and journaling on what was happening. why was i having such a visceral reaction to the word family? as i poured the words of my heart into that little, leather-bound red journal, i was confronted with the reality that i was lonely in my church. i was in the community, but mostly on the outskirts. it didn’t start that way. but over time, things happened or didn’t happen, that caused me to feel like an outsider. i had become a person without a family. holy smokes, i was a christian orphan!
when you grow up in the church, it is understood that you be faithful in attendance and service. over the years, i had become neither. and if i was honest, i would have to admit that it kind of hurt. you know how you want independence until you don’t? that was me. i was perfectly okay – at least in my rationalization – being on the outskirts until i lost my sister. and i was thousands of miles away from home. and i needed the care of my church family but i didn’t have one. i had friends who showed up to keep me company or get me out of the house. but my church community was absent. silent. and it hurt. so, what did i need to do to fix it?
no sooner had i thought those words, we were instructed to ask God to show us who He wanted to place in our family. okay, cool. i prayed the words and expected to sit there for a while waiting for an answer. but nope. it came immediately. in the spirit of transparency, i’m going to admit i wasn’t excited with the response. i had never felt any kind of natural connection to this person, so it didn’t make sense to me. in my stubbornness, i refused to write the name down on the provided note card. my plan was to marinate on it for a bit and then try my prayer again. surely, the answer would be different.
i confess to recognizing the ridiculousness of this whole situation. my name wasn’t awful. this person had never done anything mean or hurtful to me. i just didn’t feel any connection. i figured there had to be someone else available for me to connect with at the church. as we made our way to lunch, i struck up a conversation with someone new and it was further ammunition to shoot back at God that He could do better. can you imagine? me telling God to get His weight up?
once in the cafeteria, i sat at a table of strangers and started talking. the standard questions came up – what’s your name, how long have you been coming out to the church, what do you do, where are you from – you know the routine. all was moving along normally when God pulled a coup de gras. guess who sat at the table next me. just guess. i sighed. well played, God, well played.
until this very moment, i couldn’t remember ever having a one-on-one conversation with the owner of the name God had impressed upon my heart. i could continue in my stubbornness, and say it was just a coincidence, but i’m not a naive christian. it absolutely occurs to me that nothing ever occurs to God. there is a plan and a purpose to it all. i could get on board, or i could stay on the outside. alone. and so i talked. and i listened. and slowly that ball of anxious knots that had twisted itself around my heart began to loosen.
after lunch i enjoyed my free time, getting in a little archery before hitting the riding trail. that was followed by kayaking and down time. rather than continue to socialize, i pulled away to meditate on what i knew God was saying, and deal with my rebellion toward it. in that quiet time i thanked God for not leaving well enough alone. i thanked Him for not allowing my fear or hurt to block the blessing that He wanted to bring into my life. and i asked for Him to show me how to stay open to what He was doing. by the end of dinner, i was beyond exhausted. that was more than enough internal work for one day.
the next morning as i sat in the sanctuary ready to hear from God, i had to keep reminding myself to be open. old habits can indeed be hard to break. as if on queue, God hit me with it again; the f word. the pastor was teaching about having a family meeting. everything in me wanted to jump out of my seat and take a few laps around the church. are you kidding me? really? again with the family thing? okay God. i hear you. I HEAR YOU. i hear you. the last time i said those words, it was in complete surrender. yes, i want to be a part of the church family and not be lost in the greater community.
was it that simple? was it done? never one to leave well enough alone, God sealed the deal through the expression of my love language. putting immediate action to God’s command, i reached out. and when the invitation was extended to share a meal together, i said yes.