Jan Johnson

Wisbit - August 2015

Welcoming the Person in Front of Me

I am by nature a high introvert. Given my preference, I’d sit in a comfy spot reading a book for the rest of my life. But the second part of the Great Commandment tells me to love my neighbor (Matt 22:39). A “neighbor” is a person who is “nigh” (near) me, which might be the bank teller depositing my checks, the dejected teen boarding the airplane ahead of me, the beaming father holding his 6-month-old in the Home Depot line - or the person who wants my attention when I’m completely absorbed in my book. So I have simplified the second part of the Great Commandment to: What would it look like to love the person in front of me for the next 10 seconds?

To “love” the person in front of me does not mean I necessarily feel warm and fuzzy toward them, or that it’s my job to make them feel good (even worse, to like me). “Love” is simply engaging my will for another person’s good. So I often ask God, What does “love” look like here? Most often it involves being friendly or kind or helping someone out. Quite often such welcoming is no big deal.

My friend was in line to speak to a collection agent (so nobody in that line was happy). His previous experiences with the clerk were not pleasant so it was tempting to numb out and just “get through it.” But when he noticed that the gentleman in front of him didn’t speak English well which clearly annoyed the clerk, my friend quietly stepped in and helped translate for the man. It eased the situation considerably.

Some would say my friend did this because he is an extrovert, and that may be part of it. But more than that, he’s very intentional about welcoming people into his life (as is my husband). When he says “How are you?” to me, he waits for a real answer. I’m having to get used to that, since I’m eager to get down to business and address the matter at hand. What I liked best about my friend’s interchange in the line was that he lightened the load not only for the gentleman but also for the clerk who had been so brusque with him. He loved both people in front of him.

Indeed, the person in front of me that I might struggle to welcome might be someone who repeats himself a lot or who tries to convince me of a so-called biblical idea that I don’t think is in Scripture. I most often forget that the person in front of me really matters when I’m distracted by my own dilemmas or trying to make a decision. So the prayer becomes: Show me what it would look like to love the person in front of me for the next 10 minutes. And God usually shows me what to do.

Jesus, I believe, was like my friend. Jesus taught people: “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me” (Matt 10:40). Jesus laid aside deep grief over John the Baptist’s death to pay attention to the crowd in front of him (Matt 14:13-14).This is the essence of hospitality: welcoming the person in front of me:

  • We pay attention to others, inviting them to be at home with us as they unfold themselves before us (as God invites us). Then we wait for them to be able to do that. To merely welcome another, to make a place for them is one of the most life-giving and life-receiving things a human being can do. Hospitality is not limited to inviting others to eat with us or stay in our home. While cleaning, bed-making and food preparation are valuable gifts to offer others, the core idea of hospitality is being open and vulnerable to another person (Invitation to the Jesus Life, p. 70).
  • The more I welcome people into my life, the more I find life to be an engaging adventure in God’s company. ©Jan Johnson

    Grace and peace,
    Jan Johnson



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