I think some of the most courageous people in the world today are single people. Let me explain where I'm coming from. I've been married for over half of my life, so I've not spent a lot of my adult years walking in their shoes.
In the last several months that has changed. I'm still married, but my husband has been pretty much bed-ridden for the last 5 months. This means that I go everywhere by myself or alone with my 12 year old son.
What I've found in recent days is that this world can be a very lonely place for a single mom. Do you know what the loneliest place of all is for me - the church. You have to remember, I've been in church my entire life. From the church nursery when I was just a few days old to the church parsonage just after getting married. I have always been in the center of church life.
But now, I'm walking down a different path. Do you know how much courage it takes to walk into the average church in America alone or as a single mom with a child? After being in the church for so long, I'm afraid we have forgotten how it feels to be the "visitor" or the "guest".
Since leaving our last pastorate, I have attended the same church for the past 5 months. Do you realize that there is only one person in that church who knows me by name? No one else has even bothered to ask? It's been a very humbling experience.
Three weeks ago my son spent the night with a friend and I decided I didn't want to sit in church alone. So I drove 30 minutes away to visit the church of my very dear friend. As I stood next to her in her new church I was hugged, greeted and welcomed profusely. I felt like I was finally at home again.
The next week I returned to the very same church with my son and sat one row behind my dear friend (she didn't know I was coming and her row was already full). Do you know that not one person (other than my friend) greeted me before the service started. During the greeting time in the midst of the service, only one other person shook my hand.
Do you know how awkward it was to stand there and have the friendliest church in the world being friendly all around me - with everyone but me?
I pray that my experience over the last several months will serve as a wake up call to us all. Anytime someone new comes through the doors of our church, we must treat them as an honored guest. Please introduce yourself to them by telling them your first name - make it personal.
If they are alone, invite them to sit with you. Whether they take you up on it or not they will appreciate the gesture. Let them know that you are glad that they came! When the service is over, catch them before the fly out the back door and thank them for coming. Invite them to come back again.
To all of the guests over the years that I was too busy to stop and greet - I am so sorry. May I never forget how it feels to be on the outside looking in again. May I never be too occupied to stop and tell you how glad I am that you came. May I never forget the courage it took for you even to walk through the door. May I never forget.