You can have it all! This is the message of our culture. Reach for the sky! You can do it! We tell our children that they can do anything they set their minds to do. We continue to dream of lives for them that are more comfortable and free than ours. But in order for this to be real, it will take a values adjustment.
Intentional Welcoming is about making this values adjustment.
This third spiritual discipline of love seems kind of backwards to me. Schroeder talks about welcoming, but the discipline associated with welcoming is to set boundaries. I have never thought of boundaries as welcoming. I find myself thinking of border walls, cattle fences, and the basic posture of “talk to the hand.” Straight arm, palm up like a stop sign, face turned aside. I am not listening. I am not touched by what you have to say.
A discipline of boundary-setting does not seem to follow from Compassionate Seeing and Heartfelt Listening. In these first two disciplines, we learned to imagine what the other person might be going through, put ourselves in their shoes and accept what we see, then to listen to our heart and theirs as we decide our next steps. From here, I did not expect a discipline of boundaries.
Schroeder calls this third discipline “Intentional Welcoming.” What I expected here was the always-open door value. Always answer, always help. It is the duty of a good Christian.
When we served our first parish in Wells, Nevada, we were faced with this all the time. Our church was located on Alternate Interstate 80, the business route where the gas stations, motels, restaurants and casinos offered respite. We lived in a mobile home behind the church. A pretty obvious place for a pastor and a soft touch for people in need. We had an almost constant stream of people needing gas, food, lodging, car repairs. One night a needy man forced himself into our house in his desperation to get what he needed, terrifying us all. We were able to talk him down and out of the house, but it felt like the last straw. It simply wasn’t safe for our family to be welcoming. A couple of years later, having left Nevada and entered therapy, our counselor diagnosed us as suffering from PTSD – post traumatic stress disorder.
I have mostly recovered from those days, but when I saw “Intentional Welcoming,” I had my defenses up. So I was really surprised at where he took this discipline of love. “Intentional Welcoming is the ability to say no and mean it so that we can say yes to the things that matter most” (p.73).
Our no’s are what free us to say yes and invest ourselves, heart and soul, in what really matters. Purpose is to be part of something infinitely greater than ourselves. Self interest, even benevolent self interest, will not connect us with purpose. Only connecting to what Spirit is doing among and within us will connect us with purpose.
What a relief – at least to me! Intentional Welcoming is not about opening our doors to whatever and whoever might choose to enter.
Saying yes when we don’t mean yes leads to a life of exhaustion, resentment, and disconnect from purpose.
The American Dream, in fact, Western culture more broadly is built on a particular set of priorities. Each of us will have experienced these priorities in a different way, but generally, our culture values acquisition, productivity, constant motion and winning, among other things. But it is not the only way to live.
The Way of Jesus instead, values the well-being of all creation equally. Purpose is the way the universe is set up, the way our Creator intended earth to live in abundance for all, where each one cares for the other, where we hold the value of all lives as highly as our own life. Purpose, in this larger sense, is what Jesus called the Kingdom of God.
This equal living in the abundance of God’s provision was surprising to people even in the days of Jesus. Children were highly valued, but they were to be seen and not heard. They were not to take time from adults. They were valued as the means to receive care in our old age. They were a sign of wealth. But they were not to interfere in adult affairs. They really had no value except as property until they reached twelve years old and entered adulthood. But Jesus would not hear of it. When the children were kept away from him, he said “Stop!” Let the little children come to me. They are what the Kingdom of God is like.
Imagine Jesus, laughing, playing hide and seek, bouncing the children on his knee. He knew that children are still a bit wild, still with a glint of heaven in their eye. How much he wanted to be around them and soak up some of the natural, accepting curiosity of the child! This is kingdom living and he wanted to be around it.
So, Intentional Welcoming is not about having a great business plan, or sleepless nights worrying about the next great step in achieving our goal. Intentional Welcoming, rather, is to welcome the Kingdom of God as we find it, as it comes to us. Like a child engrossed in a butterfly which has just landed on a flower next to her.
To be able to welcome the children, Jesus had to say no to others who wanted to be taught or wanted to be healed. These are noble requests. But Jesus set boundaries. He could not be always available to meet the needs of others. He had to say no in order to say yes to the abundant, exuberant joy of the kingdom, exemplified in the children.
Intentional Welcoming like the previous disciplines can be broken down into two steps. First, make invitations. This is the discipline of sitting down and deciding what really matters to you. What do you want the world to be like? Is your life aligned with Purpose? Not the small goals and objectives careers are made of, but the big stuff of Purpose, connected to what is infinitely more than our individual life? Schroeder offers a simple exercise of sitting down with paper and pen and writing down, stream of consciousness style, for as long as the writing takes, the answer to one question: What would I do right now if I had more time, energy and money? Listen to what your heart is telling you. Write whatever comes to mind. Keep writing until ideas stop coming. For some of us that could be a good long time!
Then, here is the discipline. Choose one which makes you the most excited and energized. This is what you are intentionally welcoming into your life. You could choose two or three, but it makes sense to start with one, try it, and learn from it. Then choose another.
We usually stop here. We have our goal! But we can never enter into these things without the second part of the process. Set limits. Create boundaries. Jesus had to limit the crowd’s access to him, in order to welcome the children. The main reason we don’t keep our resolutions is that we don’t do this second part. We do not set boundaries to make room for this life-giving, purpose-joining task.
Let me give you an illustration from close to home. At least fifteen years ago Margaret Anderson, by a process or by an insight, did this very thing. She came to realize that she did not want to live in a country or a city which did not have churches. She did not feel confident in keeping all the churches in the nation going, but she knew she could make a difference at one church. She had grown up at Mt. Tabor, her aunt and uncle were deeply involved in this church. So, she chose invest herself in the work of this congregation, where her family was invested. I noticed the change in her right away. Probably everyone did! She had to limit her other obligations, even her convenience, by driving at least once a week from her home in Lake Oswego. She has invested the last decade and a half to this church. It has completely changed her life and ours. This was Intentional Welcoming. She deliberately chose to live her life in a different way because of a particular value which surfaced from her heart – that we need churches in our communities.
When we make these kinds of Purpose-joining decisions, it takes the strong spiritual discipline of setting boundaries. It takes firm action.
Back to my illustration of the constant asking for help in the Nevada years. I still struggle with some leftover PTSD from this experience, but I am an open-door kind of person. So, I have developed a spiritual discipline of keeping my door open as often as possible. This summer, it has been an experiment of Intentional Welcoming. I sometimes sit down at my desk and see that I have closed the door and physically get up and open it again. And when I do, it reminds me that I have chosen to be open to whatever, and whoever comes along. This has sometimes meant there were difficult conversations. Some of our most needy guests have stopped by each week to ask for help. I have had to set firm boundaries on what I can offer. I can offer kindness. I can offer listening. I can offer a piece of candy from the jar on my desk or food from our Portland Food Project collection. But I also have a boundary. I do not offer cash. Others will make other choices, but this is the boundary I have set in order to feel safe. But because of my boundary, I have noticed that I can be more open, kind and empathetic.
The door-open discipline has also meant that I am taking time for connection with people rather than some of the administrative tasks which land on my desk. I have not perfected a balance yet, but this connecting is something I am passionate about. I hear what my heart is saying. The session has decided this is to be our primary characteristic – we are a bridge-building, community-building church. My passion and the church’s meet here, as well as God’s, for who else is more about connecting than God? How will I manage my time? What am I passionate about doing? What tasks energize me? These are becoming my focus, even if I don’t please everyone all the time.
It is important to remember that these callings, the yes’s and no’s are constantly shifting. This is not a once-for-all kind of decision – for good or ill. It would be nice if we only had to do this kind of sorting once, but the fact is that it is a lifetime discipline. Especially seasonal – the seasons of our lives as well as the seasons of the year. In each season, in each change of circumstance, in each nudging by the Spirit, repeat the process. Make invitations. Invite Spirit’s ideas. Sift and filter. Make choices. Set limits. And Practice.
I honor the boundaries I set.