A while back I was invited to a fabulous party with delicious food and lovely company. I looked forward to an afternoon of meeting new people and reconnecting with old friends.
I have taught myself to be a pretty outgoing person, even though it has not always come naturally; but walking in late and alone and only recognizing three people made me feel unusually nervous. I chatted with the three people I did know but didn’t want to monopolize their time, so I looked for a place to sit and eat.
I bravely sat in an open chair and introduced myself to those I didn’t know. We talked for a bit, but they all had to leave quickly to pick up kids from school, so I was left alone. I looked around for another open spot, but the tables were full, so I sat by myself for too many painful minutes. Not one person looked up and noticed.
I was unprepared for how awkward and lonely it felt. I went from a confident 39-year-old woman to an insecure 13-year-old girl in a matter of seconds. That horrible, cast-out feeling roared inside me until I couldn’t stand it for one more moment, so I gathered my things to go.
As I drove home and reflected on the afternoon, my heart hurt for the kids who feel like this every single day. Kudos to them for continuing to show up even when life disappoints on a regular basis. They are warriors, but they aren’t the only ones who feel alone.
That experience made it painfully obvious that the feeling of being unwanted doesn’t end just because we grow up. We all want to belong, but so many men and women still feel lonely much of the time. They try but fail at friendship, watch from the outside and still can’t find a seat at the table.
As followers of Christ, this shouldn’t happen on our watch. There should always be room in our pew, on our row, in our circle. My heart breaks wondering how many members, new or old, have stopped attending church, not because of doctrine, but because they can’t stand the idea of worshipping alone. How many neighbors feel snubbed because they don’t fit in? How many new friendships have been overlooked because our church family gives us all the social experiences we need?
This moment, alone, at the table, reminded me to stop being so comfortable in the relationships I already have and to look out and reach out to the one who might need me—to be the person who doesn’t hide in the corner, who introduces herself to the new girl, who scoots over to make room, who invites that extra person, who widens her circle at every opportunity. If we choose to open our eyes, there is probably always someone who is desperate for a friend, or even just a little connection.
Yes, there are a million, valid excuses we can use to justify why we don’t reach out. We are too shy, too busy, too different, too tired, too content, or too weighed down by our own mess. But I am asking all of us, as disciples of Christ, to put the excuses away and try to figure out how we CAN follow our Savior’s example and embrace one more.
The solutions can be simple, though perhaps a little uncomfortable. It’s saving a seat for someone in Relief Society who isn’t your best friend. It’s sharing a sincere compliment with a teen who you think is just trouble. It’s following up with a neighbor you know has experienced heartache. It’s asking the new guy to join you for Saturday basketball. It’s choosing not to sit alone at a soccer game, even if you prefer it. It’s finding out why someone left the church instead of assuming and avoiding. It’s talking to the grocery checker instead of looking at your phone. It’s insisting that the hard kid gets invited to the party and then making sure he feels loved.
This way of life, this inclusivity, can become a habit if we let it. It might take a while, a few years, or even a lifetime, but wouldn’t it be wonderful to be known as the person who broke down barriers, abolished cliques, refused to judge and made this world just a little softer, a little easier, a little more accepting for all of us?
If we change our hearts and resolve to be better, if we look up and out instead of down and inward, perhaps we will find that we do have the courage and the ability to make room for one more in our lives, in our hearts, and at our table. With a little effort and a little time, we just might end up living in the type of family, neighborhood, ward, and community that we have always dreamed of being a part of. Perhaps it is possible to create our own little piece of Zion.