I glanced across the room and my eyes could sense her tension. Laughing, smiling women filled the round tables scattered thoughtfully throughout the church room, but my new friend’s body stayed barricaded against the back wall, her feet cemented with uncertainty. While I rushed to see what was wrong, I knew it wasn’t soon enough. I could read her face as she wondered why she agreed to come to this gathering. Eyes moist with the onset of newly formed tears and alone in a supposedly safe space that promised connection and community, her perceived rejection felt palpable.
There’s nothing more lonely than walking into a room of women (make it doubly lonely if they’re Christians), scanning the whole place, and then realizing that no one has saved you a seat. She was living her worst friendship nightmare. I’d invited her to be part of my planned event, and I felt responsible. I cautiously put my arm around her, not quite certain on how to proceed.
There we stood — two, fifty-something-year-old women thrown back into the same realities we battled back in high school of being the new girl, the uncool girl, the stranger, the uninvited guest who stood on the outskirts waiting to be welcomed in.
“Jen, I really don’t want to be here right now,” she whispered.
“I understand, but let’s go find a seat together.”
As a gatherer of people, as well as a lonely woman who’s currently struggling through this threatening territory, I’ll never forget that moment. Even now, I can feel the heaviness we bore — the same load of loneliness and isolation that thousands of women carry. In fact, my eyes well up with tears as I type this because while I know we are not meant to do life alone, to carry burdens in silence nor celebrate solo, what happens when you desire friendships, but it seems like everyone has them but you?
I’ve always been the cheerleader of all things hospitality, and I passionately believe in the life-giving power and gift of a simple invitation, but I’ve been a stranger in my own skin these days and I’m not quite sure what to do with it. I want to understand this lonely season I’m camped in, so as my soul is parched, I reach for the only source of Living Water.
I find part of my answer in Leviticus19:33-34. There’s a reason God impresses the importance of showing love to strangers throughout the Old Testament. He commands:
And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
The Israelites were intimately acquainted with what it felt like to be a stranger, a foreigner, and to literally be held hostage. I can’t imagine the despair they experienced followed by sweet release. Once chained and enslaved in Egypt, they experienced freedom and God’s merciful rescue. And when they didn’t have a home as they wandered through the wilderness, God provided food and shelter (Exodus 16-17).
Over and over, I’m reminded of His goodness and how God wanted the Israelites to remember their own desperate loneliness and struggles in Egypt so they could empathize and create a safe space for others to be welcomed.
Another reason God calls them to care for the foreigner is to model for all the surrounding nations what a relationship with God looks like and who God is. They were to show that God wants to and would welcome the stranger into a relationship with Him.
This is at the core of who God is: He is the One who made a home for us, a welcome amidst our loneliness. As I’m trudging through a hard friendship season, I’m holding on to that truth. It’s not a quick-fix tutorial on how to create instant community and connection; that’s a much longer and often laborious process. But it is foundational to why I’m convicted to keep reaching out even when it feels like I’m on the outside looking in.
We are strangers and wanderers holding the hope of the gospel to invite and welcome. Won’t you join me?