I wanted to write about this a week and a half ago, but as life goes, I got caught up in other things and didn’t sit down to write when I should have. Instead I cranked this out in less than 20 minutes before getting on the road to Chicago today …
Last week, I was in Virginia visiting my sister, Becci, and in DC working on new projects. Thankfully, my visit included a Sunday, because I really enjoy Becci’s church when the main pastor gives the sermons. (I’d been to a handful of other services with her which were given by the pastor’s father (who is also a pastor) who is ragingly conservative and a tad on the sexist side.) Through December, the Community Church has emphasized Be Christmas: Sing, Give, Serve, Visit.
So, in the spirit of “Being Christmas,” we should ask ourselves: Am I really generous – attitudinally and financially? Am I really serving the Lord – am I doing real tangible work for the Lord connected in some way to His house? And do I recognize that God is a visiting God? (Genesis 3:8-9 He goes looking for Adam and Eve in the Garden. Exodus 3:16-17 He’s been watching over the Israelites in Egypt even when they didn’t know He was there. Luke 1:67-68 God came and redeemed His people.) I think we all know we should be generous and have a servant spirit, whether we embody that all the time or not is another story, but when we stop and think about God as one who visits us, what does this tell us about Him? The presence, the taking of time to come…it says something.
As good sermons often do, this one adeptly touched on something going on in my personal life. There I sat, next to my sister, one of my best friends, one with whom I’ve been through some serious ups and downs, there in Virginia, visiting her. I love visiting Becci. It’s something I’ve done a lot ever since I had the means to. When I was a freshman in high school, I saved up enough money to buy myself a plane ticket to fly to Pensacola, FL to visit her where she was living at the time; as soon as I turn 16, I began begging my parents to let me drive to NC to visit her there; and between deployments, training, and moves, I’ve managed make it to her place for nearly all of her three kids’ birthdays, lots of Christmases and weekends, and every Thanksgiving I was in the country until this year (when my parents made the trek to Ohio). I don’t list these trips as a checklist of accomplishments, but simply to illustrate that I’ve known for a long time that expressing my love to Becci through visits has been important to me – and until last Sunday, I’d never heard anyone talk about God as a visiting God before, and so the whole concept really crystalized for me there in that moment.
As the pastor continued illustrating the love of God through scriptural examples of His visits, I turned to Becci, smiled, and gave her a big ole squeeze and told her I loved her. She said something to me that I’ll keep in my heart with me forever, “Sarah, I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again, I am so thankful Mom and Dad kept having kids. I really don’t know what my life would be like or where I would be without you in it.” (I’m the last of four children in our family.) I probably didn’t quote her exactly right (apologies, Becci, if you’re reading 😉 ), but that simple comment absolutely meant the world to me.
That Sunday’s message touched me for other reasons, as well. I’ve had a lot of conversations with friends about who God is, what His role is in our lives, how He is a living and active God, one who participates in our lives. As is often the case, I try to discuss what someone else has already much more coherently and intelligently described, and I sat there last Sunday listening to the pastor beautifully describe concepts I felt in my heart but sometimes struggled to articulate. I was thankful that he provided the scripture for the principles I sought to share.
Luke 19:41-44 – God was trying to reach the people in order to help them, but they didn’t recognize Him/His message. The funny thing is, this is a prayer I pray for myself a lot – that I may recognize when the Lord is speaking to me and when he is visiting me. And then, oh by the way, to actually welcome Him into my heart, listen to Him, then adjust as necessary. The pastor prayed this very thing for the people there that morning and pointed out that often the very thing that’s not lining up the way we want it to is God visiting us. Now, I don’t think that means everything that is hard (aka: what we don’t want) is God’s doing or message or whatever…I think as we cultivate discerning hearts, as we mature, that we see what it is when God is trying to reach us.
An example it reminded me of was one brought about by this same man’s sermon about eight months before. I’d been planning to move to Ohio to be with Pete and I was going to move into his apartment when I got there. We’d been together for over a year, we loved each other very much, we both felt ready to live together. It just made sense, right? But about two weeks before the move, after going to Church with Becci and listening to a sermon that had nothing to do with relationships or living in sin or anything like that 😉 I was overcome with the feeling that I shouldn’t move in with Pete yet. That (feeling like God was pressing it upon my heart that Pete and I should not live together) was not what I wanted for a handful of reasons…but I knew I needed to have my own place, I knew in the long run it would be better for our relationship, I knew there were too many big things going on at once (leaving my job in DC, leaving all things familiar for many things unknown, etc) and knew myself well enough to know the stress of all that would be too much for me to concurrently share a small living space with another person. (I’m working on this! haha). Plus, what would Pete say? Would it hurt him? Would he be upset, mad, disappointed? Well, Pete handled it beautifully. He was disappointed, yes, but understood. And I learned a valuable lesson that day – one that gets retaught many a time in our lives – that it was scary and difficult to listen to God but I was immensely grateful that I did. I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders and I was no longer worried about moving to Ohio (to summarize).
The second prayer the Community Church’s pastor had for his members was that we may tangibly reflect God’s love by visiting others. Be generous, be giving, you can serve, you can visit. Does busyness crowd out your Christian life? What good is Christianity if it’s only studied?! At some point, you have to be a Christian! … and real Christians visit people. (This made me think of one of my best friends, Theresa, whose father is a Catholic priest. She is an incredibly loving daughter who worries about her father’s health and happiness and has often told me about how he travels during all hours of the day and night to visit people…in their homes, in the hospital, wherever they may be. It’s beautiful because he gets it…Father Joe gets that simply being there for someone is sometimes the best thing you can possibly do for them whether they’re Catholic, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, a combo, or none of the above, visiting…being with…communing with people is crucial to our survival.) And I do always try to keep in mind the wonderful passage the pastor pointed out – Matthew 25:31-46 – For what you did to the least of your brothers you did for me. You just never know who you might be helping by that little, “insignificant” gesture you did, the “pay it forward” you performed, or the $10 you gave to a random person on the street. Ya never know…
One last thought before I close – The pastor kept emphasizing that we need to realize that God can touch us, speak to us, visit us at any time; moreover, that we needed to have our hearts and minds open to that possibility or else we may miss it. And it occurred to me that the same way that God can touch you at any time if you’re open to it, you can touch anyone with the spirit anywhere, as well, simply by being generous, kind, or happy…or by simply visiting them. 🙂
So, the question is (rather, the questions are): Who in your life needs visiting? Do you need visiting? Moreover, will we have the courage to let them in when we hear the knock at the door? Will we have the courage to listen, and then to act, according to the visit or the message we receive?
Merry Christmas everyone, and may you have a weekend full of wonderful visits 🙂
PS one more thought….my love of travel has a lot to with my love of visiting people, as nearly 9 times out of 10 I travel to places where I know people so that I can visit them. 🙂