Have you ever been the new kid? Have you stood around at an event where you didn’t know anyone pretending to be on your phone? When I was little, one of my greatest fears was moving because I panicked at the thought of being totally ignored or excluded. As we begin a new school year (enjoy the 1st day of school picture of my four oldest babies), I thought it was appropriate to spend some time reflecting on both being and welcoming a stranger.
If you have school-aged kids, at the beginning of the year what are some of the things you think about as the hours pass before you get to reunite with your child(ren)? I think about how they are feeling and what they are doing. I wonder if they are being good listeners and following the rules. In the first few days, more than anything, I am curious about who they played with, sat next to at lunch, and if they made any new friends.
It breaks my heart to think about kids who walk around alone at recess or don’t have anyone to sit with and talk to at lunch. My kids are fortunate enough to go to a school that feels like a home away from home. It is a school that their dad went to, and their Nana, and their great-grandpa (not to mention a busload of aunts, uncles, great aunts and great uncles, and 1st cousins once removed – or whatever…I get lost in the terms). My two kids at the elementary school currently have six 1st cousins at the same school. How awesome is that!?!
I know every child isn’t that lucky, and that’s one of the reasons I talk to my children about reaching out the new kids. I remind them to say “hello” and introduce themselves to kids who are new in their class and school. This can be hard for anyone but it is so much harder for the students who are new. Parents, I know reaching out can be hard for us too. Regardless of if you have children or not, I’m sure multiple times a month you are in situations at work, church, school, or some sort of social gathering where someone is feeling like they don’t fit in. Maybe that person IS you. The good Lord knows it has been me. Now (on a good day), because I find my worth as a beloved daughter of God, I am able to let go of my desire for acceptance and “validation” from others. Instead of waiting to be welcomed, the acceptance and love I find in Jesus allow me to be the one who is welcoming (although I’ll be the first to admit I could do a better job).
Jesus places “welcoming a stranger” on the same level of importance as giving food to the hungry and clothes to the naked, drink to the thirsty and visiting those who are sick or in prison (Matthew 25). Being and feeling part of a community is a need that we have. This is taken from the passage describing the “judgement of the nations” where Jesus separates those who loved Him by loving the least among them from those who ignored the needs of the poor. Neither group specifically recognized Jesus in the poor – both are heard asking Jesus, “when did we see you hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, ill or in prison”? Jesus’ response to both is truly eye-opening: “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). “The poor” can look like a homeless person begging for food in a big city, but “the poor” can also look like the child standing alone on the playground or the person at your next gathering waiting for someone to say “hi”. No matter what they look like, I pray each of us can take the time this week to serve the poor around us by simply saying hello.
Jesus, source of love and goodness, thank You for constantly inviting us into a deeper relationship with you. We are sorry for the times we are so focused on our own lives that we fail to see those in need around us. From the surplus of love and acceptance You freely give to us, may we pour out that same love and acceptance to others. Help us be brave and reach out to those who are alone the next time we see them. Please give us eyes that see You in the strangers around us. Amen.