This past Sunday we found ourselves standing in an echoey hall, clasping mugs of church coffee and trying not to look completely awkward in our cluelessness.
It was our first time at church in three months; an international move a few months ago made church going complicated, and honestly we’ve been enjoying Sunday mornings making pancakes in pyjamas and replacing EU plugs with UK ones. Simple family time together.
But last weekend we were mostly unpacked, all the plugs had been changed, and we decided to venture out to a local congregation.
We arrived as the first song was already being sung (hello toddler making us late) and found a place to park the buggy out the way and slide into a pew far enough forward to feel part of the service, close enough to the door that we could make an easy escape if necessary.
It was a good service. I enjoyed the music, surprising myself by tearing up at one song. The sermon was interesting. There was an awesome moment with an accordion and three elderly African women leading us in a Harvest hymn.
And then the service wrapped up and we were faced with the what to do next.
We hovered around the welcome table until someone came and said hello, with what my husband calls “an appropriate level of awkwardness.” (This is Britain, after all. We excel at awkward.) And then he pointed us in the direction of the church hall for coffee time, which is when I finally realised where all the other people had gone so quickly.
The thing about being new is that it’s so exhausting. The not knowing, either people or practices, makes every encounter feel heavier and harder, makes me feel so much more vulnerable.
Standing in that church hall, having figured out that I needed to get milk and sugar from the opposite counter to the coffee, I started to tell myself off for attempting this. The easy option would have been to just take our tired daughter home, that safe space where I was mostly in control. This was scary, this putting myself out there, hoping I might meet someone friendly, hoping I might find a way in.
I busied myself with stirring my coffee and pretending to be very interested in the architecture of the room (I wasn’t) until my stirring was interrupted by a hello.
A man had left his toddler daughter eating lunch in her highchair on the other side of the room to come over and say hello because he’d noticed us standing alone. I could have hugged him. (I didn’t—we’re British, remember?)
That one hello made all the difference. We suddenly were included, space was made for us—not just physically, but socially. I’ve moved about enough now to feel familiar with that sense of complete powerlessness that comes in every new place. I make brave plans to join groups, go to church, figure out when the mama-toddler groups are happening at the library, smile at other parents at the park.
But until someone is willing to make space for me in their life, I continue to feel like an outsider.
It can be a terribly lonely place, to be honest. But it’s also a powerful reminder to me that the aim is never to get so comfortable, so settled here in this place, that I don’t have room for anything new. For the new person at the park or at work or at church. For the new experience or role or idea.
It’s a reminder that God is always bringing me forward, on to the next thing, to a deeper understanding of who I am, who God is, what I am called to.
“See,” God says, “I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” —Isaiah 43:19
Oh that I may always have eyes to perceive the new thing God is doing in and around me, both now in this frequently vulnerable place of newness, and in a year’s time when I’m tempted to get comfortable and forget how hard it was. May I stay awake to the surprising ways God works to make everything new, even me.
This post was originally published on She Loves Magazine.