Last weekend, away on holiday, we visited some friends. These were the kind of special friends everyone should have: we have known them for decades, and so there is an irreplaceable mutual history, a depth of knowledge of one another that comes from many shared experiences, not least the companionship through both joys and challenges, the kind of friends that you can laugh with and cry with and know that both are equally understood without that comprehension ever having to be voiced. Friends who I desperately wish lived nearer. A phone call, though wonderful, is never quite the same.
But our visit was risky. You see, we had not told them we were coming, largely because we were not sure, amid other responsibilities and the vagaries of West Country traffic, whether we could actually manage it. So our visit was unannounced. Anything could have been the result, not least they might have been out, or entertaining for a special occasion. So I was a little unsure as I knocked on the door, hesitation co-existing with hopeful anticipation.
The door opened. One of our friends, expecting a delivery, took a step back, as I watched recognition dawn slowly, turn to open-mouthed astonishment, then delight as she threw her arms around me in a welcoming embrace. We sneaked in, surprising her husband, whose face mirrored hers, the enveloping hug and the accompanying joy at this unexpected interruption to his chores leaving us both teary eyed. Their urgent tasks forgotten, the kettle was on. The warmth of their response stayed with me a long time. I still smile as I remember.
Like us all, I have known other, very different occasions when I have not felt welcomed. On one, I did not even get inside the front door. I have had others where I was admitted, but felt that my visit was ill-timed and awkward and I was sorry I had gone. This visit was in sharp, and wonderful, contrast.
It occurred to me, driving away and still smiling, that at times we can feel similarly about approaching God. Sometimes we feel we will not be let in - so many of us grappling with not feeling good enough when that is the whole point, and what grace is about. Or we feel that somehow God is too busy to welcome us, that we are just an irritant, an interruption. Yet I know my friends well enough to be sure that if they were there they would be glad to see us. My challenge – and perhaps yours too – is to remember that this God who at times I am hesitant to approach knows me more deeply than even they do, has similarly celebrated my joy and counted and collected my tears (as Psalm 56:8 puts it). He is always waiting for his children, and even if they have wandered off and come back pig-sty stained he can’t wait to throw his arms around them, with the heavenly equivalent of not just a warm teapot but an entire, gloriously joyous, welcoming party.