December 3rd is a special day on the calendar for me. As strange as it might sound, it has become sort of a personal holiday that I quietly reflect on each year.
When I was growing up, I was the quiet kid in the back corner of the classroom who hardly spoke to anyone. I was often nervous, shy, and awkward. My grandparents were even once convinced I might have a social disorder when I was a toddler. To be honest, I had always resigned myself to the fact that social interaction would be difficult for me and it might just mean being lonely. I had absolutely no confidence and coming out of my shell was just too painful.
On December 3rd, 2000, I was in 8th grade. My church’s youth choir was putting on a Christmas performance. Our church was huge and so was the youth group so the choir was over 300 students and it was one of the few times I wasn’t involved in it. To support some of my friends, I decided to go to the Friday night performance.
As I arrived, I soon discovered that all of my close friends were all backstage getting ready and I was, once again, the loner. A few students from our church’s Christian academy were there and I began casually talking with a couple of them. But after a few minutes, the rest of their group arrived and I realized I was the odd man out.
I could respect the situation. I only knew 2-3 people in that group of 10 and I didn’t know all of their inside jokes or background. It made sense that I would suddenly find myself on the outside while they circled up and chatted away. But that’s when something happened that I had never experienced before. One of the girls in the group that I did know called over to me, “Hey Matt! Come hang out with us tonight.”
It may sound pretty sad but that was the first time anyone had ever invited me to be a part of a large group like that. For the first time, I was included. I was in a large crowd and I didn’t feel lonely. I felt like I belonged. As small and insignificant as that moment might seem, it was a game-changer in my life. I began talking with everyone and it wasn’t awkward! I was actually connecting with them.
That night gave me a confidence I had never had before. I didn’t have to be the quiet, awkward kid anymore. I could actually belong somewhere. I would later date one of the girls in that group. Those friends were eventually the ones who first suggested that I might have a calling to ministry on my life.
Today, I’m happily married and I have a son. I’m an ordained minister with a job that requires me to travel to different parts of the country, identify Christian graduate students who show leadership potential, and teach them how to lead others around them. I’ve got an amazing group of friends around me, many of which have been a part of my life since elementary school. I’m even called on to preach in front of large groups of people every so often.
I would have never considered any of those things possible before that moment. That simple invitation – that extended hand – touched something deep in my heart that changed the way I viewed myself and who I could be. It was the start of a long journey towards becoming more confident and independent. It eventually led me to a calling I once considered impossible. These friends of mine didn’t do it as an act of charity. They were just being mindful and thoughtful.
My point is this: You never know how God might use you to change someone else’s life. You will never understand how far a simple gesture might go or what it might bring for that other person. It wasn’t a scheduled ministry initiative or an agenda on someone else’s part to reach out to me. It happened between the lines in the unscheduled moments of the day. This is what I mean when I write about “ministering in everyday life.” It’s about letting Christ shine through you in such a way that his love and power is evident even when you’re not thinking about it.
I’m so thankful for Chelcey and Sara that night. They had no idea what they were really inviting me into and neither did I. That’s why I still remember this date 13 years later.