Can you see them? Do you know who they are?
They sit among us in the congregation, sometimes at the heart of the body, sometimes on the fringes. They worship on Sundays and gather for Bible studies. Some come to events and activities, hoping that maybe if they come enough and do enough, they will start to belong.
You’re part of the church, we say. They smile and nod. How they desperately want to believe that it’s true — true that they belong, true that the local church feels like home, truly among brothers and sisters in Christ, truly no longer invisible as they are every place else they turn.
But if we’re honest, too often this is not true for those among us who are widows and widowers, orphans and strangers, parents without children and children without parents. They feel so alone — in life and even in the body of Christ.
Look with the Eyes of the Lord
As the church gathers this weekend, try to look around with the eyes of Christ. You may be amazed at what you see.
For the widow who sits in the same pew each Sunday, the dullest, most ordinary order of worship is full of life compared to the home from which she came and will soon return. It sits quiet and empty day after day. Pictures of her husband adorn the walls, subtle reminders of what she no longer has. She misses the joy of companionship. The loneliness is a fog she can’t seem to break through.
Nearby sit the parents of a child who’s run away. Their home is broken in a different way, but it’s no less broken. They call. She doesn’t answer. They pray. She doesn’t come home. Every time she updates her Facebook they are flooded with emotion — joy that she is alive, sadness at what’s been lost, anxiety about what lies ahead. Sunday is their respite as they fight for faith in God’s goodness.
Behind them sits the fifteen-year-old boy, the only Christian in his house. Every word he hears from the pulpit encourages a life that is vastly different from the one at home. The tension in his family is palpable, and his faith is the source. Even to be here on Sunday is against the grain of everything else in his life. Was being here just a huge mistake?
They come to church where there is no belt, bottle, or pill. No yelling, screaming, or fighting. No darkness, no silence, no emptiness. For these precious people, “sanctuary” is not the name of the building. It’s the rest that they find here.
They are lonely and wandering, but for a brief time they feel like they belong. They sing with us and pray with us. They stand when we stand, and they sit when we sit. Here, amid all the smiles, handshakes, and hugs, they feel a closeness that’s missing everywhere else.
This is the only part of their week that feels right.
All of the happy, unbroken, picture-perfect families around them seem oblivious to their struggles. Not that the happy people don’t care — they’re just not paying attention. They’re keeping children quiet, focusing on the sermon, preparing for lunchtime or game-time or nap-time.
Love the Groom — and the Bride
When the service ends, the happy and the lonely go their separate ways.
For widows, orphans, and outliers, the Sunday afternoon journey back home is a portal back to reality. For the lonely, it hardly matters whether their front door opens to a mansion of fine things or a hovel of poverty. Inside is a desolate place.
Are these not Jesus’s people — and our people, too?
Stretching out his hand toward his disciples, [Jesus] said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:49–50)
O, that we would increasingly love the body of Christ as we grow in our love for the Head (Colossians 1:18); that we would love the branches like we love the Vine (John 15:5), and every living stone that’s joined to the Corner of God’s great church (Ephesians 2:19–22).
Loving his church is an opportunity to love Jesus himself. You cannot divorce the Groom and his Bride. What God has joined together, let no man separate.
If every happy, intact family among us took it upon itself to initiate toward and welcome the lonely, making visible those around us who feel invisible, what a joyful place our sanctuaries would be.
Give Your Best Love
Each time we gather, we have a fresh opportunity to be a son to the man whose own won’t see him. Every Sunday is a new chance to be a mother to the teenager whose own mother is unbelieving. Each assembly is an avenue to love the family of God with the same passion and devotion reserved for our own blood.
Let the birthday cards and phone calls, Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas feasts, the outings to movies and basketball games flow from the heart of the strong and happy into the wells of the weak and lonely.
Will we love them with our best love, and not relegate them to second-class love on account of their not having the same last name? Will we give them the primary love, the best of yourself, the part that the rest of the world holds back?
Thank God that Jesus did not love us with his second best. With nail-pierced hands stretched out in agony, he loved us with his best. And if we belong to him, we have access to the resources to love his people with our best, as well.
Look around you this weekend and look for the lonely — and reach out and love them! Love them with initiative and creativity and energy they would never expect — and never find anywhere else. And when you love them like that, the world will see it and glorify our Father, who empowers such unexpected love.
God, give us eyes to see the lonely.