Sunday morning looked about like the usual, rushing and more rushing, throwing a bagel or a baggie of cereal to my children, and doing a fair amount of hollering to get out the door, always five minutes behind. It is, and probably always will be, controlled chaos trying to get to church. I walked through the church doors and grimaced at the louder than necessary slam of the church door, while the strains of the first hymn play, my small parade of little ones behind me. We make it through the children’s message without incident, we raise our voices in praise, and then we begin the weekly wrestling match that is the sermon. I have three small people in my house that can (mostly) listen to the sermon or color quietly. I have one that requires a great deal of patience, multiple bathroom trips, a bundle of threats upon dessert, and sometimes more than a little heartache.
The tears begin to roll down my cheeks. I feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and in so much of it, very alone. The last hymn comes and I wipe my eyes quickly. I paste the smile on my face and cheerily greet my fellow believers in the narthex. Do you know who I am? Am I a single mom, the parent of a special needs child, the pastor’s wife? I could be anyone.
The question is… do you know me?
The church is full of people silently struggling. In fact, most of us are struggling with something. Maybe it’s the health of a loved one, our own health, our marriage, finances, job stress, whatever. We all have junk. The reality is, though, that it is easier for some members to go by unnoticed. Maybe it’s because their quiet. It’s easy to shout out an expectation that they should just share their burden, let us help with the load, but there may be reasons we cannot even begin to understand that are holding that person back from getting the care and fellowship they need.
Look around you. Who is sitting in the pews with you that you do not know? There are hidden shames and struggles that leave people in the margins. Imagine the margins of a book, or this magazine. They are blank, yes, but more importantly they are the place where the words don’t go. It is hard for us to find, much less accept, that which we do not know, or even more, where we do not go. God calls us to go there. To reach across the aisle to someone.
There are many people that the world has forgotten. The list is endless, but may include:
Those recovering from abuse
Those caught in domestic violence
Women trapped in the shame of a past abortion
Those battling addiction
Parents of children with special needs
Children and adults with special needs
I could go on and on, but I’m not sure that’s helpful. Your story may help you identify the forgotten ones to be on the look out for.
The world’s response to trouble is the leave it bottled up. To keep it tucked away and unrevealed. It’s too painful, to much work, just plain too much. God’s response is to reach out. To heal together, to let it unite us. We are the bridge between the two. Christ reached down to us from Heaven. The Prodigal Father runs to us on the road. Their love and acceptance and willingness to come down to seek out, spurs us on to reach a little further than we ever thought possible.
So how do we start?
Be aware. Whose smile doesn’t quite go to their eyes when you’re talking? Who looks tired and world weary and in need of a bit of care? Who is crying silently during the Gospel reading?
Sit a little closer. Introduce yourself by being honest, “I don’t know you, but I’d like to. My name is __________.” We can worship all our lives with people that we don’t even really know. Let’s change that.
Foster intimacy. It’s ok to ask questions in a gentle and loving manner. People are allowed to have boundaries, but we’re also allowed to reach out. “Can I help in some way?” Be persistent in your love. Relationships don’t form overnight, even though we’d like them too. People who have been hurt or are hurting may have a difficult time letting people in and trusting, but God reaches down to us, time and again when we say “no thank you.”
Walk alongside. Life is wonderful and hard. Life together means inviting in someone else’s wonderful and hard stuff. There are times you will feel overwhelmed. Times you will be tired and weary. But…you’ll be tired and worn and carrying the load together, with a Savior who is completely ready to bear the weight.
Maybe you are the forgotten one. Maybe you feel a little bit lost in a sea of people, wishing someone would reach in. The good news is, someone does. Jesus comes to us in our hurt and pain. He wraps Himself around us with His Word and fills us with His Spirit. Then He gives us a church. He gives us a people who are fully capable of sharing the joys and the burdens of life, commissioned by Him in their baptism and ready to go.
Praise be to Him, who remembers each and every one of us. Let us spur one another on in remembering the forgotten. Believe me, His people are always worth it.