Guest post by Gary Nelson*
“The splendor of Jerusalem is a thing of the past. Her leaders are like deer that are weak from hunger, whose strength is almost gone as they flee from the hunters.” (Lamentations 1:6)
Somebody better call the squirrel police! I can’t help but laugh when I see the deer standing next to the Squirrel Crossing sign, but then I feel sorry for the deer. They must be terribly hungry because they come in the middle of the day to eat the food my neighbor leaves for the squirrels. The deer are so frightened that the least bit of noise from a car topping our hill causes them to flee, even though they desperately want to stay and eat.
In some ways the deer remind me of a lot of people I’ve met. These people desperately need to be nourished in warm and intimate relationships, but their fear causes them to flee instead. I know there are many reasons for this fear. Maybe they’ve been hurt by others in the past. Maybe they’ve been warned that bad things will happen if they stay. Maybe the person or persons they need to be in relationship with have rebuffed them. Maybe they’re afraid if people really get to know them they’ll tell them to go away. There are a lot of “maybe’s” in the equation, but all lead to the same result – the person wants and needs to stay but they flee instead.
If we’re on the fleeing side we might consider asking our self a simple question: “What am I afraid of?” and listen while God’s Spirit helps us discern the answer. If we find our self saying something like, “I’m afraid that if I tell them _________ they’ll turn me away,” then try telling the person that first. Tell them you want to share something important with them but you’re afraid of how they will take it or respond. This will cue the other person so they can be more aware of your fear and be ready to receive the sharing with openness and warmth instead of defensiveness and anger.
If we’re on the other side of the equation and see that there are those who flee or are afraid to approach, it requires that we practice what I’ll call radical hospitality. By that I mean that we are called to notice that fearful person or persons then invite, welcome, and do everything possible to make it okay for them to stay. It requires extra energy and attention on our part. It requires patience to hear the other explain why they might be frightened and want to flee. We might be surprised and even hurt by the assumptions they have made about us. We might also be hurt to hear the hurt we actually have caused that led to the other being afraid of us. We might need to repent and ask for forgiveness. We might have to simply clarify misunderstandings. Whatever the case, it means we have to practice radical hospitality to show the other we want them to stay instead of fleeing.
God practices this radical hospitality with us. Whatever the problem, God searches for us, listens patiently to our fears, and offers us the way back into warm, nurturing relationship. The sharing of Jesus is just one more way that God has demonstrated God’s desire to be in relationship with us. We need not flee. I pray that God will give me the courage to move toward the other I need when I want to flee, and also help me look for the other that needs me to practice radical hospitality.
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*Thanks to Gary Nelson for allowing us to post his insightful reflection. Dr. Nelson is pastor of Cross Lanes United Methodist Church, Cross Lanes, West Virginia and writes a weekly email column, “Wednesday Wonderings,” where this reflection first appeared. He is available for schools, churches, professional groups, etc. as a speaker on teen depression, free of charge. Contact Gary Nelson.
You can read more of Gary Nelson’s reflections on his blog or in his new book Wednesday Wonderings:Spiritual Journaling Through a Lens, available from Wipf and Stock. We first became acquainted with him through his compassionate book, A Relentless Hope: Surviving the Storm of Teen Depression. Check out his video, Teens Surviving the Storm.