One of the things that is hardest for me about being a minister, particularly a women’s minister, is that you always have to be “on.” If you forget to say hello to someone at church, or if you aren’t friendly enough or you don’t initiate conversation with someone, then you can wind up with a bunch of women thinking you’re mad at them. In fact, I’ve thought the same thing about other women at church who didn’t speak to me. I assumed they were snobby or cliquish or that I had done something to offend them. And when this happens, relationships can deteriorate rather quickly. You stop speaking to them, and then they wonder why you’re being weird so they stop speaking to you, and the next thing you know there’s an unspoken rift between the two of you for no reason at all!
For awhile I was frustrated with myself since I’m not a naturally extroverted person, and I frequently found myself in these socially awkward situations. There are some women who are easily outgoing and always seem excited to see everyone. I wish I was one of them. But it is not my nature to run up and squeeze everyone I see. I am often guarded or insecure, which causes me to wait for the other person to initiate friendliness, especially when I don’t know them well. This insecurity has not only inhibited me in my ministry, but in my Christian fellowship as well.
So the question is whether or not I have to be just like those cute and chipper girls I see at church every week. Do I really have to be “on” all the time? Is that what God requires of me? Not necessarily. Some people are inherently extroverted but others are not, so we are not called to be someone that God did not create us to be.
However, what often holds me back is not my introverted nature, but my fears and my guardedness. I am unwilling to put myself out there because of my pride. I don’t want to be rejected, and I want people to acknowledge me first. I don’t want to look or feel stupid, so I opt to be prideful instead of hospitable.
What is the solution to this problem? I believe it is found in the story of the Prodigal Son. I only made this connection after recently hearing a song that recapped this classic Scriptural tale, but with a fresh perspective.In particular, it highlights the viewpoint of the father, a viewpoint I’d never before considered. The lyrics describe a father who deeply misses his son, but who also prays for the strength to take his son back if he ever returns.
The idea that the father might have needed strength to reconcile with his son had never dawned on me before. In all my readings of the Prodigal Son, I had just assumed the father missed his son so much that nothing else mattered–it didn’t matter that the son had spurned his father’s love, taken his inheritance, squandered it on hedonistic pursuits and brought shame to his family’s name–I assumed that the father shrugged it off and never looked back.
Yet this blind love is not likely the response that most parents would have. Some parents would be tempted to turn their backs on such a rebellious child. Less harsh parents may take their child back, yet still struggle greatly with the pain of being rejected by a child they had raised and cared for. Not even God Himself takes rejection lightly. When we bring shame upon His name, it stirs up His wrath and He desires to vindicate Himself.
With all of that in mind, the story of the Prodigal Son is more than a story of blind love–it is about a kind of love that swallows its pride, humbles itself, perseveres through rejection and loves anyway. It is a foolish kind of love–after all, the father had been burned once, so how did he know he wouldn’t be burned again? How did he know the Prodigal Son wouldn’t betray his trust once more? He didn’t, but he loved his son anyway and welcomed him with open arms. Such a love would almost seem foolish and naive, yet that is the love he bestows.
What, then, does this story have to do with female friendships? Well it is the love of the father, the love that has been shown to you and me, that empowers me to overcome my insecurities and my hesitancies, and to love radically, even foolishly, like the father of the Prodigal Son. Even when I walk up to a group of college girls who look at me like I am the biggest goober in the world, the story of God’s seemingly foolish, self-sacrificing love gives me the strength to stand there and smile. Sometimes I feel like a total idiot, but I suppose it is nothing compared to what Christ felt on the cross, knowing full well that while his love would change the world, we would still continue to betray him. Christ was a fool for us, which is why Paul tells us to be a “fool for Christ,” (1 Cor. 4:10) and it is comforting to know that even when my ministry leads me to feel like a socially awkward weirdo, all for the sake of love, I am in good company.