I stood there and listened patiently while the adults talked.
It was just casual conversation seasoned with a few well-timed jokes only a preacher could get a laugh out of. That preacher was my Dad and on the receiving end of this artfully woven tapestry of religious comedy was the father of one of the kids in our church congregation.
Their words passed through the air like a swarm of bee’s 2 feet above my head only grabbing my full attention when I heard my name echo out of the buzz.
“My son has some friends over and I think it would be great if Brandon came over to join them.”
They instantly had my attention.
But not for the reason you might think. Those words brought excitement but more so they brought fear.
I was afraid of being rejected.
Insecurity Looks For Light
You see, I wanted nothing more than to be friends with these kids but it just never seemed to “click.” Every insecurity in me started to wake up to the opportunity of seeing the light of day.
My memory seemed to wake up just to mock me. I remembered the time at scout camp when the adults were laughing with the kids about how different each of their personalities was. Some were jokesters always setting up the next laugh, some were intellectuals who loved puzzles & board games that lasted for hours, others were true outdoorsmen who could fish and hunt 24/7. When they came to me, I was the kid with no personality. That was the consensus.
And, I believed them.
The Lies I Believed
I had buck teeth, wore a retainer, had a deep southern accent and was as gullible as they come. My jokes never seemed to get the laughs my Dad’s got and I struggled to find common ground in relationships that weren’t overshadowed by my other insecurities.
I was too short, too boring, too awkward, and too blinded to recognize none of those things were what held my value.
He asked if I wanted to go…
I was hesitant saying, “I’m not sure and probably not.”
I tried to skirt my way out of opening up the pandoras box of all my insecurities and reasons why I felt this was a bad idea, but that would only confuse them and make me feel more awkward.
The safer bet was to just agree to go.
And, that’s just what I did.
The Buckling Of The Walls
I didn’t say much on the way there. Mostly, I listened to him talk over the radio and share some stories.
The car ride wasn’t very long and I had brought boots along since it was late in the year and our area had recently had some cold weather.
I sat on the edge of their deck putting on my boots while he told me the boys were down the trail playing in the woods. His finger pointed toward the trailhead while he told me it was only a few minutes walk to get there.
He was encouraging but my fear buckled the walls I had built over the years that allowed only me to see the storm of emotions that raged inside.
“I don’t think they want me here…”
The words came out as fast as timid words can travel. I quickly pulled my emotions into check and looked down at the ground. I stared at the bare driveway and felt like it was a good representation of the moment.
I hated that feeling.
He leaned over and said, “You are welcome here but if any of them make you feel like your not, I want you to let me know.“
There was a better chance of finding a leprechaun riding a roomba than there was of me telling this kids dad they didn’t make me feel like part of the group. That was instant childhood character banishment.
I would gather myself together, put up my walls, and just focus on taking the steps to get through the day.
I can’t say there wasn’t any hope that I was seeing this whole situation wrong. But, even though I was young, through the years of being a pastors kid I developed a keen ability to gauge the temperature of relationships and motives behind them. I wasn’t always able to express the “why” behind what I felt but more often than not my “feeling” had substance to it.
So, I took off toward the trailhead with only me and my thoughts.
To The Trailhead
He was right in it only took a few minutes to get to where the boys were playing. I could hear the laughter carried on sounds of branches breaking echoing through the trees a few moments before I could see them. As I came around the curve of the path I caught view of them and them of me.
All playing stopped… And we stared at one another for what felt like an hour but in reality, was only a brief second.
The cold had caused the birds to move south for the winter leaving only a deafening silence ringing through the forest.
I stood from a distance like a deer who just heard a limb break.
My insecurity and fear whispered… “See, I told you they didn’t want you here.”
And, the thing was… It felt right.
Maybe not so much that they didn’t “want” me there but that I wasn’t “invited” there; at-least by them. I wasn’t part of the group.
I could see the surprise in their faces but it wasn’t the good kind of surprise. It was the kind that shows up when you know your dad has done for you what he has asked you to do on your own… And, you weren’t prepared for it.
The Lies We Tell Ourselves
They didn’t tell me the lies I believed about myself but the lies attempted to leach on and confirm themselves in the way they looked at me. Not a word was spoken but there was no need for words because all the words needed for me to consider the lie true had been spoken years before we came to meet.
Most I had spoken over myself.. in my own head. The sanctuary of safety where no one could hear and correct the absurdity I was believing about myself… except for God.
It was awkward but I had no quick escape. I could have just turned around but his dad would see and that would make things even worse. There was no other option than to join in.
It’s incredible how many hours of thoughts one can fit into a moment.
Time finally came back into some sense of normalcy and one of the boys suggested we go to the waterfall to see the ice-cycles. I think he may have just been attempting to do whatever possible to break the awkwardness but regardless it worked. I went with them and as we arrived the biggest ice-cycles I think any of us had ever laid eyes on came into view.
They reached the entire height of the water fall from top to bottom.
The inner child in all of us lightened up and we spent most of the day climbing through, under, over, and around these ice-cycles.
We discovered we all had something in common.
Finding The Qualities in One Another
I can’t say I left that day feeling like a new person because I didn’t. It went differently than I expected and in some ways exactly how I expected. But what did happen was I learned the value of stepping regardless of our fears and when our fears appear to be reality; we find the ice-cycles we can agree on.
Many of these guys became really good friends of mine after that day. It took many upon many more days of choosing to show up though. We learned to see the qualities in one another and appreciate those things rather than getting so caught up in our petty differences.
In many ways this same thing happens in the church.
The Search For Community
Every week people show up to services with all sorts of fears and lies they believe but what they all are looking for is a community that will accept them, embrace them, and show them love.
The good thing is accepting, embracing, and loving people is exactly what God has given to us through Christ and then asks us to give to others.
The bad thing is the church often misses how important the art of hospitality is to showing the acceptance, embrace, and love of Christ.
Scripture tells us to “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” 1 Peter 4:8-9
We all know we are the hands and feet of Christ but if we really believe that, our hands and feet should be doing the things Christ’s hands and feet would be doing.
When people show up to our services we have to be proactive in being hospitable. And this is much more than saying hello and being friendly. We have to be willing to go further and invite them into our lives and our circles of relationships in the church.
Being the church means making disciples who love as Christ loves us. That kind of disciple intentionally invites people into our lives. It’s work, it’s tiring at times, but it’s necessary.
This means you will have to give one of the most valuable assets you have…
Coupled with the love of Christ, when we offer our time we are inherently placing immense value on a person. Just as Christ intentionally showed us the path to His table we should also be so intentional in welcoming others to ours.
In the same note, if you are the one who feels alone… Don’t run from the awkwardness and be intentional in showing up. Many of the great things God does in our lives only require we show up to receive them. The lies you believe may feel true and they may feel like they are confirmed in what you see… But they are still lies and they only represent your value if you let them hide where only you can see them.
Join a group, when it’s awkward, go back, don’t give up. Be faithful in the small things and see what God will do. Don’t let insecurities dictate your future and joy. They were never meant to conduct that train.
It’s hard and at times awkward. But you might find you both like ice-cycles.