"The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God." Leviticus 19:34 (NIV)
Walking into the building, I kept my head down and peered around the room from under my lashes. The butterflies in my stomach took flight as I assessed the unfamiliar surroundings. The room was filled with strangers and mysterious equipment, making my hands slick and my heart pound.
I was a foreigner in a new land: the gym.
You might laugh, but have you ever had similar feelings in a new situation? Even though I'm seasoned in many settings, the first time I visited my gym, I remembered the feelings of being the outsider. The newbie who doesn't know the culture, secrets to fitting in or how things work.
Being a "foreigner" is uncomfortable, but when we pass that stage and become a "native," it's easy to forget those feelings and become oblivious to the needs and feelings of a newcomer.
Even though I'm fully integrated into my church family, that first foray into the gym brought flashbacks of visiting churches after our move. I remembered the discomfort of walking into rooms full of people I didn't know, wondering if anyone would speak to me. It was difficult to navigate unfamiliar surroundings, trying to pick up on the unique vibe and vocabulary of each place.
Those were the days when my "house" hadn't achieved the status of "home." I walked my neighborhood and wondered about the people behind the doors. Would I be accepted here? Maybe even loved? In those early months, every place and every interaction held the starchy, scratchy newness of jeans just off the shelf. How I ached for the warm softness of the worn and familiar.
On the day my new neighbor Nikki visited and brought a pie, things began to shift. Her children were the same age as mine, and as they ran off to play, Nikki's kindness and happy smile opened a door into a new place of belonging. Even before I earned "native" status, she treated me as a friend. Nikki lived the powerful truth in our key verse: "The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born" (Leviticus 19:34a).
God created us for expanding community, and He calls us to live a life of welcome.
When we remember our days as a newcomer, our time as "foreigners in Egypt," we can live life with one hand joined and the other open. One hand holds the hand of the precious community God gives us — neighbors, family, friends, and brothers and sisters in faith — while keeping the other hand free to draw newcomers into the circle.
The hand joined to our community keeps us close and connected. It's where we commit to live our truest self, working through the messiness that inevitably arises with close living. It's the people we eat with, pray with, play with and love. When we have the blessing of a tight-knit group, sometimes it's easiest to close the circle, joining both hands with those we know well. But God asks us to keep one hand free, always looking for one more new friend to draw into the loop.
My awkward first visit to the gym lifted my eyes from my everyday busyness and engagement with my well-established loved ones. Now I'm trying to be a walking invitation to the "foreigners" around me. "Come join us!" my heart cries.
Let's go with a heart of invitation to work, school, church, the neighborhood party ... and maybe, even the gym.
God, help me shake the complacency of being a "native." Lift my eyes to see people around me who are new and in need of my kindness. Show me how to reach out to others in love to draw them into my circle, living a life of invitation. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
TRUTH FOR TODAY: Colossians 3:10-11, "Now you're dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete. Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ." (MSG)
REFLECT AND RESPOND: Is there someone new in your neighborhood, workplace or church who needs to feel welcomed?
Pray and watch for a way to reach out and make them feel included. Follow through one day this week, then savor the joy of bringing encouragement to someone else.
© 2014 by Amy Carroll. All rights reserved.
Proverbs 31 Ministries 630 Team Rd., Suite 100 Matthews, NC 28105 www.Proverbs31.org