Welcoming the stranger. I hear that and instantly think of inviting people over, opening the door to angels. Those are good and important things to do. However, as we come through Lent into Easter, a seven week season of rejoicing in Christ’s defeat of the most dreaded stranger ever, death, I have learned that I am a stranger to myself in so many ways.
What is it like to welcome myself? Many writers, past and present, talk about the dark recesses of the soul where things reside that are hard for a life-long Christ-follower to admit are there. Anger, jealousy, rage, envy, greed, gluttony, vainglory, pride: a veritable laundry list of sins reside deep in my soul. I try very hard not to get to know those foul residents, to keep them as strangers. They are forgiven and cleansed in the blood of the Lamb, I remind myself; therefore, I do not have to have anything to do with them, like a bad neighbor, I can justify ignoring. Or the old ostrich idea that if I put my head in the sand, then maybe all that gunk really isn’t there.
I am learning slowly—oh so slowly—that I need to embrace these foul residents of my interior life. Like Mother Teresa scooping desperation out of the gutters of Calcutta, I need to invite these wretched aspects of myself in. I need to face them, ask them who they are and where they come from. I need to hear from them what there is to learn from their presence in my life.
For example, anger was such a necessary protector in childhood. It kept me from greater evil. Yet, I am no longer a child. Just as I no longer get out the Barbie dolls which are still in the closet, I don’t need to get my anger out to use as a weapon of defense any more.
Or greed. I needed to hang on to material things because I was trying to hang on to myself. Inviting greed in to chat helps me see the depth of my pain and the wound that needs help and healing. I learn that Jesus is holding on to me; I don’t have to try to do it all by myself.
As I learn to welcome these dark elements in my soul, I find that I am also more able to welcome Jesus and his love, something that has been a stranger to me in functional ways. In the welcoming of Jesus’ love, I become less of a stranger to myself. I walk through each day more at peace internally and externally, more at home in my own essential being, and therefore able to be more welcoming to others.
Spend a moment with God after reading Valerie’s words. Is there a dark part of your own soul that God is asking you to invite in and face in the light?
What challenges do you find in welcoming another when you haven’t welcomed that part of yourself?
Valerie Hess is an author, instructor in the Spring Arbor University’s Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation and Leadership (MSFL) program, retreat speaker, musician, mother and pastor’s wife. She does a weekly blog for the MSFL program and has written numerous articles, mostly on the themes of spiritual formation through the spiritual disciplines and church music. She has written three books: Habits of a Child’s Heart: Raising Your Kids with the Spiritual Disciplines (co-authored with Dr. Marti Watson Garlett), Spiritual Disciplines Devotional: A Year of Readings and The Life of the Body: Physical Well-Being and Spiritual Formation" (co-authored with Lane M. Arnold). Her husband is an Associate Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Boulder, CO. She has two daughters.