Years ago while I was in college, my wife (then fiance) and I took a trip two hours south of our own campus to a large, state university where a good friend of ours was a student. We had known her for years and watched from a distance in recent years as this friend descended into a typical, party-going existence in college. Her parents divorced; she drank and did drugs; and she found solace jumping from relationship to relationship. We saw her that day for the first time in a couple years. She sat on a tattered college couch in a run-down apartment on campus and chain-smoked cigarettes the entire time we were there. She told us stories that came out almost as persuasive run-on speeches attempting to convince us that the life she living really was enviable. The entire time she spoke, I couldn’t help but notice the swirling smoke enveloping her head in a haze of shadows and sunlight.
I remember leaving our friend that day and at that point feeling sad for her. I carried with me a sense of sorrow, missing the early days of friendship with more innocence and less scars. I remember a sense of compassion, wishing she would find a faith community and the fullness of life of which Jesus spoke. I remember (and now I can identify it) a sense of arrogance that I was living a better life.
I’m not sure why, but over the past month or so this image has returned. It is the image of shadow and sunlight. So strong and so swirling. That day was a good day. It was a gift to be with our friend. We have since lost touch and live in different parts of the country, but we remember that day as a good moment with a friend. There is no sorrow now. No judgment and no superiority. Instead, it is possible now for me to understand that day as a gift.
At the core of Grace Table is a desire to share hospitality, to encourage and honor the tastes and smells of hospitable living. The greater challenge at times, I believe, is not to offer the gift of hospitality but rather receive the gift that comes in moments of brokenness.
My job as a pastor is to shepherd, to care for, to listen and encourage. And over the past several years I believe I’ve grown and continue to grow in that calling. In many ways, it is a calling of hospitality.
But here is the rub.
I am much better at ministering to others than allowing myself to be ministered to. It is more comfortable for me to be the hospitable one than to receive the gift of stillness and welcome, favor and adoration.
Specifically, it is incredibly difficult for me to receive this gift when it comes on the heels of broken faces and broken spaces. I look back to that smoky apartment sharing conversation with a friend while we were living in two separate worlds and I remember how uncomfortable I was. And yet, I recognize now that in the face of another broken human being (like myself), amidst her own wounded heart (like my own), swirling in her shadows and sunlight, I received the sunlight. Of course I received the shadows as well, but that’s all part of it.
We live in a well-edited culture. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter… they all show the best versions of ourselves. But this can never be the image, the metaphor, or the pulse of true reception and grace that comes from one broken human being offered to another broken human being.
So today, may you feel deeply the hurt and brokenness and grace and joy of humanity around you. And today, may those shadows and rays of light dance with the particles of the gift that they are.