Time for The Talk

As I think of my life in terms of welcoming the stranger as a lifestyle, rather than an antidotal event, I am forced to go back many years, even decades. Back in the day, my wife and I routinely welcomed strangers into our home for a night or even a few days, sharing food and clothes with them as they might have need. We also had a regular stream of individuals who stopped by our door desiring a bite to eat, and my wife was always more than happy to serve them soup, burritos, sandwiches, whatever we had on hand.  I remember our two oldest children begging their mom to carry out the food to those who came to our door. We had wonderful, delightful times, even once when we think we actually ‘entertained an angel unaware’.

What has changed with time? I cannot blame the change in me on having been “taken advantage of.” I have better stuff now, perhaps I am afraid to lose what I have – my life, my stuff, my space!? Yes, I think that is it, not the stuff, but my space. I do not want to lose my space to just be, and in fact I jealously guard my space. Yes, this is all too true. In fact, as I consider all this, I would say I that I now actually take steps to not welcome the stranger.

Now I am not talking about choosing not to help people in need, for instance, by giving directions, helping them figure out the ticket machine or what train they need to take, or even, giving some change to someone who asks, but I do not welcome these people. I am kind, but I have definitely learned the art of arm length caring. By that, I mean the ability to be kind in a separate, polite way that creates distance and is anything but welcoming.

I travel on the commuter train and have discovered how to position myself to create the greatest likelihood of no one entering my space, no one sitting next to me, or talking to me. I also see my home as a place of sanctuary: my sanctuary – a place of undisturbed quiet leisure, unhurried being, a place free from disruption. As I write this, it appears to me that my stance toward others is not exactly in harmony with the way Jesus interacted with people. If say, I am sick and going to a friends mother-in-laws house to rest, I am not going to spend the entire night healing people, or if I head out to the country to get away from everything, certainly I am not going to volunteer to organize and cater a meal for some 5,000 people, nor if I am taking a leisurely walk on the water and a boat load of lunatics starts screaming that I am a ghost, will I choose to stop and help. I will keep on walking. The current state of my heart toward welcoming strangers is a tad unnerving. It is time for me to have a sit down with Jesus and talk this through in greater detail. I am grateful for a God who welcomes me, cares for me, and loves me just as I am and also invites me into new places of growth into Christ-likeness. It is time for my come-to-Jesus-talk regarding welcoming the stranger. What about you?

Join the Conversation

How are you at welcoming the stranger? Have you cultivated the ability to be kind and caring from a safe distance or do you, like Jesus jump right in the middle of these encounters?

Is Jesus inviting you to explore/expand your posture of welcoming the stranger? What might Jesus be inviting you into? What might that look like?

Are you resistant to welcoming the stranger? What might be behind this? Ask Jesus to search you and help you to discover what might be holding you back from welcoming the stranger.

Larry Warner:
warnerLarry Warner is founder and president of b, a spiritual formation ministry working with pastors, missionaries, seminarians, and churches; he is a retreat leader and spiritual director; he teaches at a number of seminaries and is a consultant for churches. He is author of Journey with Jesus: Discovering the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius. He has been married for thirty-five years and has four children and three grandchildren.
    • I do notice that I am not around as many new people as I used to be when my children lived at home. Meeting new people was a common occurrence back then and more natural. I liked that. Good food for thought and awareness provoking. Thanks Larry.

      • @ Cynthia – yes our children are wonderful ways to bring us into the lives of others but what happens when they are no longer that vehicle for exposing us to others.

    • Shari

      Wow…convicting and disturbing. I work hard to create an uninterrupted sanctuary in my home. Welcome those we know and love – no problem…but to welcome the stranger, make conversation on the plane, meet the new person at church – I’d rather retreat into the safe and known. Unsettled Thursday with much to think about.

    • Good to know you more Larry..quite challenging I do agree! Can I just say I had a chuckle at the phrase, and I want to adopt it, ‘its time for a come-to-Jesus talk’…nice!

      • @ Lindsay – it is a wonderful little phrase. I am glad you are choosing to make use of it.

    • @ Shari – too true. It is interesting how Jesus can sneak up to be and with care, love and truth clearly show me something that I was not seeing. God is good and always inviting us to new places of growth and becoming.

    • As I read this, I reflect on my parents’ home having been a place where strangers were welcomed. Partly it blessed me to have our family minister to people and welcome them and see their response to being cared for, yet once we had a girl live with us who was a horrible influence on my little sister. Thus I have been deliberately more guarded about the space of my family in our home. In fact the thought of welcoming the stranger really does not cross my radar.

      I just looked up “welcome” in the dictionary, and it conveys the idea of gladly receiving someone upon their arrival. I guess I’ve seen others and outsiders as a threat and haven’t considered receiving them, let alone gladly receiving them!

      I, too, need some me-and-Jesus time with this. Wonder whether I missed any angels in my protective stance.

      • I appreciate your openness to God and your willingness to talk it through with Jesus.

    • Nancy Peckham

      Hmm. During and after a week-long visit from a family member who just left today, I’ve been having a conversation in my journal with Jesus about this kind of thing. Not exactly a stranger, but an “interruption” to my “routine” and “space” just the same.

      • I know what you mean about having this difficulty with friends. I wish I. Could pass it all off by claiming my need for space on being a introvert but it seems to be more than that.