It was a bleak, cold, damp, and cloudy mid-winter day as we stood outside a friends’ home. From where we stood the windows reflected trees and the outdoor elements, but inside, the candles showed warmth and light. We could hardly wait to go in, to relax and more importantly, not be chilled anymore.
As our family walked in the house, we heard, “Velkommen til oss!”. In English, the direct translation would be “Welcome to us!”. Where I come from, we say “Welcome!” to the people coming in, but it usually stops there. The “to us” is left off, but I like it better in Norwegian, because it means we are going into something.
“Welcome to us” is sort of like saying, “Come on in, enter into our space, our home, our life, and be a part of what we have going on here.” What I experienced with this phrase makes me think of our friends, their warm home, hospitality, delicious food, glasses of wine, good conversation, smiles, and hugs. You might think we had known them for a long time, but no, they are new friends.
New friends. Thank goodness for new friends. Not that I don’t love the old ones, but new ones take a bit of exploration. The stories of new friends are like a new landscape that we must walk upon and become familiar with. When I listen, I feel like I am looking for points of connection, something I relate to, a shared experience, passion, or even a loss or grief. Some people are so different from me that the points of connection are few, but the basic line is, we are all human and we all want to belong.
That’s why when “Velkommen til oss” were the first words we received upon walking into our friends’ home, it became an imprinted image of what it means to extend welcome to others. I want others to be received into my home, my community, my children’s school, my church, and my life with welcome. I want them to come in and enter my space and be a part of what I have going on.
As a pastor, I have always urged, asked, pleaded, even begged my congregations to welcome other people to church or the fellowship hour or to Sunday School or to a community event or…..into their daily lives. Of course, most people rarely did this because it was easier to do as they’ve always done. It is easier to not welcome and engage and sit and be with the old friends and family with whom they were familiar. I understand that, of course! It is much more comfortable and a bit like the old shoes that have formed to our feet. There is no risk involved when we don’t welcome.
But….. what are we missing out on when we don’t welcome others to us?
We miss out on the opportunity to learn something new. We miss out on discovering our connections. We miss out on opportunities to minister and be ministered to. Our lives miss out on being added to. We miss out on shared meals, good conversation, hugs, laughter, and insight into this life we are all journeying on together.
When we welcome others, we add light to the dark corners of our life. It is a bit risky having a new friend, but it’s risky not to have one as well. Here in Norway, I love my new friends. They come from all parts of the world and add a whole lot of flavor to my life. Some are deeply spiritual and full of insight and others make me laugh. Some are quirky and weird. Some are just plain fun and others are in grief or loss. Some are compassionate and others can hardly see beyond themselves. And yet, I think my life would be much less without them.
Invite. Welcome. Listen. Love. Share. Eat. Laugh. And then, do it all over again.
I have to say thank you to our new friends. They have reminded and taught me the Norwegian way of welcome. With that, I encourage everyone to find ways to say, “Velkommen til oss!”