Welcome, Wanted, or Missed

Welcome, Wanted, or Missed

Dec 18
Welcome, Wanted, or Missed

I’ve shared this story many times, but I can’t recall if I’ve ever shared it here.  If I’m repeating myself, please forgive me – it is a testament to how much this made an impact on me.

One Sunday at church, I noticed a young man sporting a very “punk” look – dark clothes, facial piercings, spiky hair.  His appearance was very distinct from the typical midwestern churchgoer.  I found it fascinating and I wanted to get a chance to meet him.  When the worship service dismissed, he headed straight for the door, but I was able to catch up.

I remember two things distinctly about what happened next.

First, I remember standing in a line to get out of the building.  There were so many people trying to leave at the same time that we were actually in a line.  It was a swift-moving line – we weren’t stopped and waiting – but a queue nonetheless.  Everybody was trying to leave at the same time.  This implied that nobody wanted to stick around, nobody wanted to stay and visit or chat.  Maybe everyone was in a hurry to get to a restaurant before the “church rush.”  Regardless, this struck me as a problem.  There should never be so many people in a hurry to leave church that it causes a backup.

The other thing that I remember was a sweet older lady standing by the doors.  As we filed out past her, she smiled and said, “You people are welcome here any time!”  I was taken aback by the comment.  I believe she meant it in the nicest way, but I know what the young man in front of me heard:  “You people.”  Her words made it clear that he wasn’t one of “us.”

Then I realized by her gesture that she included me as part of “you people.”

I taught Bible classes at that church.  I taught her class there.  I had preached and led worship there.  I was both active and visible within that church.

The only thing I remember about my appearance that morning is that I was wearing a black trench coat.  I can’t remember if there was anything else about my appearance that would make me one of “you people.”  I suspect I was grouped with the young man because I was standing behind him and I was wearing a black trench coat.  We didn’t look like the rest of the church people, so we must have been “you people.”

Again, I really do believe that she meant it in the nicest way possible.  I believe she would have been mortified if I had taken the time to explain how her words sounded.

Some recent events in my life reminded me of that past incident.  As I have reflected on them, I have come to realize that there is a distinct difference between “welcome” and “wanted.”

“Welcome” is what happens after someone arrives.  We can make someone feel “welcome” — that we are glad that they are present.  But I confess that, to me, “welcome” is practically a minimum standard.  To me, “welcome” says that you won’t turn me away or kick me out.  I am “welcome” to attend or be present.  With most events, the more general the “welcome” the less likely I am to attend.

Because what I want more than anything is to feel “wanted.”

“Welcome” does not make me feel “wanted.”

I have attended multiple events involving one specific teen from our church.  (This is a different church from where I was “you people”).  This teen isn’t one of the ones that I have taken under my wing, nor is this teen necessarily one of my favorites.  But this teen has done something that few of the others do:  this teen invites me.

A personal invitation means so much more to me.  It tells me that I am wanted, that I’m not just one of “you people” who are welcome.  It says that my presence matters to someone, so much so that they want to ensure my presence.  I was asked to be there.  Rather than being welcome, I was wanted.

There have been many times when someone has told me “I missed you” after some event.  I don’t want to sound ungrateful that someone noticed I was missing.  That is a gift – not only that someone noticed, but that they were willing to say so.  However, I think that being missed is a symptom of being merely “welcome.”  When I am specifically invited, I am more likely to come.  In other words, you are less likely to “miss” me if you personally invite me.

When people tell me “I missed you” the thing I usually want to say (but don’t actually say) is, “You didn’t ask me to be there.”

While a personal invitation doesn’t guarantee my presence, it dramatically increases the likelihood.  I suspect I am not alone in this.  A personal invitation tells me that I have value to you.

There have been far too many times when I attended something only to feel like one of “you people.”  I have had my seat given away to someone else – I wasn’t important enough for someone to save my seat.  I once went to a weekend getaway only to learn there was no bed left for me – not only was there no space for me, but everybody was in bed asleep.  On multiple occasions I have been called away from an event in order to run an errand, sometimes something important for the event itself or for someone present, only to return and find that there was no place left for me.

In other words, I have found a distinct difference between “welcome” and “wanted.”

In contrast, something magical has happened to me in the past, but only a handful of times.  On a small handful of occasions, someone actually called me during an event and asked me to come.  They had noticed I was missing and they wanted me to be there.  So they called me during the event and asked me to come.  It made a huge difference to me and almost every time I dropped what I was doing and I went.

If someone matters to you, make sure they feel wanted.  If you really want someone to attend something, ask them to come.  Otherwise you might find yourself saying “I missed you.”

While I believe this to be relevant to most of life, I think this also applies to things such as inviting someone to church.  We have a tendency to invite people in a way that says “you are welcome” rather than “you are wanted.”  We “invite” people to church as if it is something they need to do for themselves rather than because we want to share life with them.

Perhaps it helps to put it in a different context.  Suppose a friend invites you to attend a movie.  Your friend doesn’t give you any details beyond the name/location of the theater and what time the movie starts.  You arrive at the theater, but your friend isn’t waiting on you.  You don’t know if your friend is already there, when they will arrive, or if you are to meet them in the lobby.  You purchase a ticket hoping that your friend is already inside, or will arrive soon.  After you give up looking for your friend, you look inside the room where the film will be shown.  There is your friend, surrounded by other people you do not know.  There are no seats saved for you.  Embarrassed, you realize that your friend only intended for you to see the movie — your friend didn’t intend to experience it with you.  You were welcome, but not wanted.

I think far too many of our “invitations” to people are like that.  And then we wonder why people seem to disappear from groups or from our lives.

Similarly, I think too many of us treat Jesus the same way.  He is “welcome” in our lives, but not necessarily “wanted.”  He can show up whenever He chooses, but we don’t specifically invite Him.  We give Him “errands” to complete, but we don’t save Him a seat next to us.  We may hope He comes, but we don’t ask Him, we don’t wait for Him, we don’t look for Him.  We want Him to be present, but maybe we don’t want to share the experience with Him.

We might tell Him later, “I missed you.”

And maybe He wants to say, “You never asked me.”

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