Have you ever moved to someplace completely new and different where everyone is a stranger? It’s “character building” to say the least! Life seems like an endless road trip outside of the comfort zone. Clueless about the best place to buy any product or service, you long to see just one familiar face, whether it’s the barista at the local Starbucks or the cheery Post Office clerk. (Yes, they really do exist!)
One of the most challenging “adventures” in a new locale is finding the right church home. It’s hard to visit more than one per Sunday, and it’s really difficult to assess the overall health of a church without getting involved. Recently, I was making a return visit to a church where I had favorable initial experiences. The worship was great, the preaching was solid, the congregation was varied, and the attendance was strong…lots of signs of a thriving church.
The one nagging question I had was whether the church family itself was friendly and welcoming. Their “official” name tag-wearing greeters couldn’t have been nicer. But week after week, not one person inside the auditorium spoke to me. The church didn’t have an awkward “shake hands with the people around you” time during the service, and my smiles and “hellos” before and after each service had not solicited any responses.
So this past week, I whispered a prayer as I walked into the church building. “Lord, please let me connect with someone here today.”
At the end of the service, as I gathered up my things to head home, the woman next to me turned, smiled and said, “I really appreciate your laugh.” I couldn’t help but think: “My laugh? Really?” Something that has gone nearly silent due to recent painful life circumstances? Yes, my laugh!
Sweeter, more encouraging words couldn’t have been spoken. Without knowing it, this kind stranger affirmed qualities that have always been part of my nature: my sense of humor and my ability to laugh. I’d almost convinced myself they were gone forever. Did this kind stranger know me? Nope. But, wow, did she pour life into me with one short sentence! We had a brief and cordial conversation, and I left feeling valued. I hope she did, too.
What a reminder of the tremendous power of words of affirmation! Just by observing and listening to the people around us, we can find qualities to affirm. It might take courage. It might take a step outside our comfort zone. But oh, the life-giving power of simple words of encouragement.
You never know what the people around you are going through. By sharing an authentic and affirming observation, you might provide refreshment to someone who greatly needs it. Give it a try this week! See what happens. I can almost guarantee that the recipient of your kinds words will smile, stand up straighter, and have a renewed spring in their step. And you’ll feel better too.
PS: Encouragement can be practiced anywhere. All you need to do is be observant and speak up. But this is also a special reminder to all church-goers to speak to strangers in your midst! It makes me cringe to think how many times I’ve been oblivious to the people sitting around me.
There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven't yet met.
—William Butler Yeats