Welcoming the outsider

Feb 15, 2017 by

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“Thank you for talking to me,” she repeated.

Taken aback by her obvious gratitude, I nodded. I didn’t view it as a favor. Our college intramural group had walked to the beach across from campus, and I’d merely started a conversation with her along the way.

She was easy to talk to, and I learned that she hadn’t really connected with anyone at our college and thus was about to transfer. Commuting was rough socially. I was surprised to realize that she seemed to think of me as popular since obviously I could think of more popular girls on campus.

I left that conversation angry at myself for not noticing her before. For failing to fulfill my responsibilities as one of the intramural leaders. For missing the girl who didn’t quite fit in.

Because I knew what that was like.

Having moved nine to 12 times in my life, I’ve been the “new girl” a lot. When there are visitors, I tend to have this sixth sense that hones in on them and wants to smother them so they feel welcome. I bite my tongue to keep from constantly jumping in with explanations about acquaintances mentioned who they wouldn’t know, or I try to change the subject when memories they don’t share come up. If they are standing alone, I usually find it hard to concentrate on whatever conversation I’m in, feeling like I should go talk to them.

Yet, here I was having completely missed her because for once I was part of the “in” crowd.

Part of me wanted to argue that I couldn’t worry about everyone and that my old friends were important, too. But the truth is, cliques are just plain wrong — and I didn’t want to be part of one.

Getting outside our comfort zones and close friends can be very difficult. Here are some truths that help me:

  1. Jesus’ heart is for the misfit. He came for the hungry, the poor, the sinners, the blind and the lame. He scorned the popular, the rich, the powerful and the elite. Pray for his heart.
  2. Recognize your selfishness for what it is.
  3. Don’t know what to say? Ask questions. Almost anyone will be glad to open up if they sense you genuinely care. (Praying for someone helps, too.)
  4. Realize they’ll be grateful you made an effort even if it flops. They probably have the same fears and insecurities you do about conversations with new people.
  5. Don’t hold back even if they are just part of the group temporarily. They still need you. They know when your walls are up, and you’ll miss out on a new perspective. I’ve had deep conversations with complete strangers that have greatly impacted who I am today.
  6. If your old friends are quality friends, then they’ll share your desire to make others feel welcome or at least be proud of you for doing so. Perhaps they just need you to set the example or remind them.

“When you give a lunch or a dinner, don’t invite your friends, your brothers, your relatives, or your rich neighbors, because they might invite you back, and you would be repaid. On the contrary, when you host a banquet, invite those who are poor, maimed, lame, or blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” — Jesus (Luke 14:12‭-‬14)

Tabitha Driver is a Mennonite who loves glimpsing God’s goodness on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. She blogs at ultimatemetaphor.blogspot.com, where this post first appeared.

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