I stood on the periphery of a group trying to introduce myself and was met with handshakes from people who looked beyond me, barely acknowledged my presence, and then passed by. I felt invisible. I was supposed to meet a friend who asked me to teach a dance at this gathering, but she was not there. I was unable to get anyone to stop long enough to ask where she might be. I shrunk into the shadows to wait.
During the waiting period, a meal was served. I was not offered anything to eat or drink from the table. I was not offered a place to sit. I finally sat down at a table full of strangers and tried to start a conversation. No one noticed me.
I resisted the temptation to leave. I was hurt and embarrassed. My comrade showed up, almost twenty minutes late, and tried to introduce me to people at the tables. They nodded, said nothing to me, and continued with their own conversations.
In these situations it is not unlike me to make a remark like, “I know I’m short. Yo, down here. I forgot my bicycle flag today. ”
I was unable to speak. I was stunned. That was due in large part to the fact that this was a church group. In my disbelief, I took a seat on my pity/judgment pot. I can spend many hours on this contraption and justify every minute of it. I was not allowed to stay there long, in this case, because God guided me to a state of detachment from my hurt and onto a post of observation.
I heard Him say, “Don’t be angry or hurt. Be calm, observe, and learn.”
I saw people enjoying the company of those they apparently knew well. There was a heart-warming familiarity about their interactions. I was impressed with loving gestures and voice tones they offered each other. I asked God to show me what I was to learn in this situation. It was quite simple.
I was a stranger; no one offered me food or drink. I was an outsider; no one greeted me. I was the unknown person; no one tried to make me feel accepted. They were busy loving on each other, as it should be in families. But that busyness prevented them from being about the business of embracing a visitor. That is not as it should be. The most important thing I realized was that it was not by commission; it was by omission. My loving heavenly Father showed me that many times I do the same thing. I wondered how often I have been so busy that I have failed to welcome a stranger into a group. I relaxed and got on with what I came to do – teach a praise/worship dance.
After the event I left with only one “thank you” from a parishioner. On my drive home I fought the temptation to tell my friend what my experience had been at her church. Then she called to thank me and sang the praises of her fellow congregants as, “Some of the nicest people you would ever want to meet.”
I don’t know what took hold of me. I decided she needed to know how I felt in that situation. I was kind and matter-of-fact, devoid of emotion or manipulative guilt tactics. It was not appropriate to preach. Still, I knew if this had been my parish, I would want to know the honest perception of an outsider.
I do not know if my friend told her church family about my observations. That is not my business. My business is to be grateful for the enlightenment the Lord brought to me. My job is not to condemn these people, but to understand that many times I am these people.
Sometimes I don’t get the game until I am on the field. That day God put me in a position to sit in discomfort and feel invisible so I can be aware of others feeling invisible.He gave me a heart to feel joy that these people love each other. He also gave me the mental faculties to see how that can be misconstrued as closed and unwelcoming on the part of one not in the circle.
We are cautioned to beware of strangers. My lesson last week was to be aware of strangers. I praise God for the lesson I learned about being the outsider. I pray I will keep that lesson before me as I intentionally seek out and welcome strangers in my church, my community, and my world.
I daily reflect on the irony that I walked into a situation postured as a teacher, but I walked out with the insights. I intend to share what I have learned with all who will listen. I now understand that no one should stand among others feeling alone or invisible.
Copyright June 2015
Laura L. Padgett
Follow me on Twitter @lauraleepadgett
Please check out my book, Dolores, Like the River about beauty and purpose in aging and God’s relentless love for the lost and broken http://bookstore.westbowpress.com/Products/SKU-000662647/Dolores-Like-the-River.aspx