I closed the car door and was fastening my seatbelt when Bess mentioned the addition to our carpool. “There’s a change of plans. I called Sharon this morning and she said that she would like to go too.” I coerced a smile and searched for a superficial expression of delight. Bess had no idea how this change of plans sent me reeling. I didn’t even want to go to this ladies luncheon but Bess insisted she needed a copilot for the long ride into the city. Sharon hopped in and pretended that all was right with the world. In fact, it probably was . . . with her world.
Over a year ago my husband, four children and I fled a war zone in central Africa. We landed in Europe in a state of total chaos. I was asked to join a Bible study with a group of ten other women global workers. I hadn’t studied the Bible in English in years and longed for something in my own language. In addition, I was in great need of spiritual nurturing. I paid the eleven dollars and attended the Bible study regularly for two months when tragedy hit. My mother suddenly passed away and I rushed to the States for the funeral. When I returned, Sharon gave me the dates of the upcoming meetings. A week later she called up very business-like and uninvited me to the study. I was informed that since I was the only one that was not a part of the same cross-cultural organization as the others I posed a problem. I would have to finish the last two chapters of Philippians on my own. There were other women in the study who were outraged by this but couldn’t do anything because of the organizational hierarchy. Apparently, two women, who were the wives of senior members of this Christian outfit, decided that I didn’t fit. This stung knowing how deep my own spiritual roots ran with this organization. After becoming a Christian in college I became heavily involved with their campus activities, served on an overseas project for over a year and helped launch a ministry on another campus after my return. I was in the process of joining their staff when I met my husband. This led to full-time ministry but with a different organization that held similar values. I felt abandoned by my Spiritual parent.
Being invited to their study seemed very familiar. Their lingo was my mother tongue and many of my friends belonged to this spiritual fraternity. Being uninvited was hurtful but not completely unexpected. During the study I found the two senior women extremely patronizing and often cold toward me. They seemed openly critical of every other global work effort except their own. In the last study I attended I shared vulnerably how I found it difficult to understand how Paul could count it all joy in the midst of his difficulties. This was interpreted as questioning Scripture and was met with an open rebuke from one of these ladies. At the time I had no idea that my prophetic query would be answered by future circumstances. Even though Sharon’s telephone call of rejection came as no big surprise-to have this loss added to my life the loss of my mother and the loss of our life in Africa was too much. I was devastated and wounded. I once heard it said that Christians shoot their wounded.
The ride in the car seemed unending. I had not heard or seen from Sharon since the phone call over a year ago. Intellectually I knew that she had not made the decision to pull my invitation. All the same, her nonchalant, no-nonsense sterility on the phone had stung. Seeing her was like pulling off the scab of an old wound.
When I arrived at the ladies luncheon I felt a relief that I could run away from the reminder of being rejected. I entered the church ahead of Sharon and Bess and hastily searched for a seat. As my eyes scanned the small sanctuary Sharon brushed by me quickly. My stomach was just settling when I saw them. Sharon stood talking to the two women who authored my banishment from the study. No, Lord! Not them too! I cried to myself.
They pretended that they didn’t see me and I reciprocated. Did they have any idea how much they had hurt me? I marched briskly toward the front row and slid into a seat waiting for the program to start. My red face and the tears welling up wouldn’t be seen if my back was to the crowd. I glanced to my right and noticed a gray-haired woman who greeted me with a warm smile. This helped calm my nerves as I wallowed in self-pity and insecurity. I took a deep breath and waited for the famous Christian orator who was scheduled. A few minutes later, this same gray-haired lady stood up and went to the podium. She was the speaker.
As she spoke my thoughts were spellbound. She spoke directly to me and shared of her own rejections and losses. Yet in the midst of these struggles was her need to continue to grow and learn from God. Her desire was to continue her spiritual journey and not set anchor in the complexities of life. But she was the author of books and a famous conference speaker! She still had things to learn? All I could think of was how much I wanted to be like that … still learning … still journeying. After her talk, our group was herded into a small conference room to eat. I asked Bess to save me a place and slipped into the restroom to try to get rid of the red blotches on my face. When I returned, my friend was smiling and innocently pointing to my place-right across from one of the women who had ostracized me. I sat down and she did not acknowledge my presence. I took a deep breath and said, “Hello Ruth, how are you?” She looked totally uncomfortable and responded quickly while rattling about the superficial. Her words drifted off when I saw the speaker join our table. I didn’t say much of anything through the entire meal but just observed the two women. One jabbered about herself, dropped names of important people, and avoided all conversation that was interesting. My gray-haired heroine was completely focused on everyone else. She asked questions that were hard, shared insight that was deep, and gave me a reassuring smile as if she saw the turmoil I was feeling.
I sat there and thought to myself, “I want to be like her . . . to be journeying, discovering, and learning what God has for me. I want to focus on others and not myself.” Was being the uninvited part of my journey? Had I accepted this as from the Lord? Or had I allowed it to fester into resentment, bitterness and self-pity?
As my fork tangled with the salad leaves, my thoughts continued to wrestle with the reality that life is sometimes unfair. This conclusion arrives at some time or another in one’s life. If you have a Pollyanna mentality like mine, this slap into reality stings a little harder. I remember sitting next to a brilliant student in language school. He was gifted and never seemed to need to study. Meanwhile I struggled with every verb conjugation and sweated through every participle. I remember one exam in particular that I had poured endless hours into studying for. During the test I noticed an open textbook on my neighbor’s lap. He was blatantly cheating. He passed with honors and I barely screeched by. The professor praised him and sneered at me. It wasn’t fair. But the realization that sometimes life is unfair is minor. What is important is how we react to our circumstances.
In Ruth Myers book The Perfect Love she states, “Unfair treatment provides an opportunity to rejoice God’s heart and enjoy His favor and security in a special way.” Am I truly secure in God’s love? Do I have a good understanding of my identity in Christ? If so, that security should work itself out in how I relate to others. If my identity is found in Christ then I could not resent these women. I had to react with forgiveness and love. I had to go beyond what was expected and acceptable. Holocaust survivor Corrie Ten Boom once said, “And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on God’s. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.” Christ set the example of this by loving and dying for the very people who uninvited him. If my identity is in Christ then I had no reason to feel uncomfortable around them. Neither could I rejoice in them being uncomfortable around me. This was an opportunity to experience God’s unfailing love in a new way–a moment to allow God to demonstrate His unconditional love through me. In I Peter 2:20 we read, “If when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.” My reaction has to have the ultimate goal of pleasing God.
Throughout the meal I politely picked at my food as I searched my heart for a resolution. My situation had not changed. I had suffered the pain of being uninvited. Yet, this was part of the process of God transforming me into the image of Christ. In Romans 5:3,4 Paul writes, “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Experiencing hurt firsthand allows us to have a better understanding of Christ’s sufferings. I remember celebrating New Year’s day in 1988 lying in a hospital bed in the maternity ward. I lay sobbing, curled up in my bed, staring at the rocking chair in my private room. My pregnancy had ended in a miscarriage. Before this New Year’s day I had no idea the emotional and physical pain that loss brings. Experience is always the best teacher. Chaim Potok writes, “One learns of the pain of others by one’s own pain, my father would say, by turning inside oneself, by finding one’s own soul. And it is important to know of pain, he said.” Being uninvited is so minor in comparison to the pain, humiliation and degradation that the Christ endured. And He endured that for me. He loved me. He invited me to share not only in His sufferings but also in His love.
As the luncheon came to a close I smiled at the gray-haired woman. She had no knowledge of how her words and actions invited me to a deeper relationship with Christ. Me . . . the uninvited.