I found myself in a very odd social situation the other day. I was with a group of people and one of them was talking about a person (we’ll call him Irving) that for many years was a fixture in their house. Irving would show up, and the family would just sort of live around him.
I found myself very quiet…because, you see, I was Irving. Just a female version, is all.
There are probably a dozen people in my life that I hung around with for extended periods, particularly when I was younger, that I probably overstayed my welcome with on a regular basis. I am certain they made fun of me behind my back over it. In retrospect, we would have all been better off if they had just said, “Go home, this doesn’t work for us. It’s not a good fit.” What usually happened is I thought they liked me more than they really did, and I probably stayed longer because I thought they wanted me there. When I would find out the truth, it was pretty painful.
Then there are the Peggys of the world (I’ve changed the name to protect the innocent, here.)
Peggy and her husband were people whose door was always open at suppertime, and I used to go there for supper during the week more nights than not. When you live by yourself, sitting at a family table during the week is like having Christmas on a regular basis. At first I was really careful not to Irving myself, but at some point I realized, “They really want me in their world.” They were clear about their expectations. They would be up front when they’d be away. If there was a night they didn’t want me, they said so, and there were no hard feelings because I knew there would be another. If they were ready to get me out of the house, they’d say “Go home,” and I did. I wasn’t the only person they extended that privilege to, either–there was another regular at their house. I have not had another set of friends like that for many years, and I still miss them a great deal.
Over the years, I’ve extended the same courtesy to other Irvings. Only one has ever been problematic and that person had a treatable mental condition. Once that person got help, they were no longer a problem.
I think if I lived closer to town, I’d be even more open to the Irvings of the world. I think a great ministry would be to have a kitchen and a den in a church and let the Irvings of the world just hang out for 2 or 3 hours of an evening. Let them sit and play with their computer, or watch TV, or help with dinner, or walk the dogs, or whatnot. And when it was time to go home, just say, “Go home. Love ya. See ya next time.”
The Irvings of the world have a lot to teach us, and oddly it’s about being bolder about connecting with people. It takes a great deal of courage for an Irving to find a Peggy’s house, because they’ve been burned before. They know it could end up badly. They are cognizant of the importance of human connection, and recognize it beats sitting around alone when one doesn’t feel like being alone. I think some of them innately realize that “this amount of social is the best I can do.” They are intensely loyal to the Peggys and the Peggy’s husbands of the world, because of their love. They are cheap to feed. They see things from interesting viewpoints and bring a richness to the dinner conversation because it’s not the same old stories of our own lives. Over time, they begin to help create a new version of the family story, and can tell stories from our shared life’s viewpoint.
A while back, on CPE, I found myself dealing with a very nerdy man who was accompanying a parent to the hospital. I realized part of my ministry to him was just to hang around and reassure him that he could get through whatever happened, somehow. When things got better, he tracked me down–unfortunately it was in the middle of dealing with a family, and I had to be a little bit like Peggy, and say, “Great! But here’s the deal. Let me finish what I’m doing with this family and then I’ll swing by and check in with you.” He got it. And when I did get back to him, it was because he wanted to thank me for being so kind to him when we talked before. I was happy that my own inner Irving could at least channel Peggy. I secretly prayed that he had a Peggy’s house somewhere, a place where he could go and just be. If he doesn’t, I hope he finds one.
I wonder how much more bold and exciting the church would be if we had an Irving ministry. I really do. It would take patience. It would require getting some things smashingly wrong now and then. It would require starting over a lot. But I think they have a lot to offer when it comes to teaching us about what the Family of God might be like.