The Power of Invitation

I was born and raised in Springfield, MO. When I lived in Springfield I was an outgoing, energetic, and extroverted kid. I was a class clown that loved making people laugh and I was friends with just about every single one of my classmates. I was just your typical happy-go-lucky kid. All in all, I loved my life in Springfield and was confident in the person I was and I was incredibly happy with what I had.

That all changed one day when my parents sat my sister and me down and broke the news to us that we were going to be moving after the school year. We’d be moving to St. Charles for my dad’s job. They told us it was going to be a great opportunity because the rest of our family lived there and we’d get to spend more time with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I was 7 years old at the time, and to be honest, none of that mattered to me. I was devastated. I didn’t want to say goodbye to the comfortable life I had and I especially didn’t want to say goodbye to my friends. I’ll never forget how heartbroken I was when I told my best friend that we couldn’t be friends anymore because I was moving away (not very tactful, I know).

At such a young age I didn’t really know how to process such a big change. When we moved I felt like I became a shell of my self. That outgoing, energetic, extroverted version of myself didn’t make the move with us. Instead, I became painfully shy and timid. When I started at my new school I wasn’t the class clown – I was now the kid that barely spoke. It was scary and intimidating starting at a new school in 3rd grade when all of my classmates already had a few years to form friendships and establish groups. I felt like an outsider and in the eyes of my new classmates I felt invisible.

This was my life for the first few months. Then one day I was standing in line for lunch when my classmate, Ross, turned around and asked me a question: “Hey, do you want to come over to my house sometime after school?” I had to stop for a second and look around me to make sure he wasn’t talking to someone else. When I realized the question was in fact intended for me I responded with something along the lines of “Yes, absolutely! I would love to!” I remember being so happy in that moment and I’ll never forget going home and telling my parents “Mom, Dad, guess what! Somebody invited me over!”

That invitation fundamentally changed my life. When I was in Springfield I received invitations to all kinds of things – birthday parties, sleepovers, friends’ houses, etc. Receiving an invitation wasn’t anything new to me. What was new to me, however, was receiving an invitation after having felt alone, scared, and lost. That small invitation from Ross was a reminder to me that I wasn’t actually invisible and that I was instead loved and valued. The thing about an invitation is that it’s intentional. When you invite somebody to something you are saying to that person I want YOU to be part of this experience with me. I care about you enough to want to share in this experience together. So when Ross invited me over to his house what I heard was I’m choosing YOU to share in this experience with me. That invitation helped me rediscover my own self worth and confidence and made me feel like I actually did belong. I was no longer an outsider.

Over the years I’ve seen invitations take many different shapes and forms and I’ve experienced the power that they contain. Perhaps the most powerful thing I’ve seen in invitations is that they can oftentimes be answers to prayers. An invitation can be a direct response to something you’re struggling with and have been praying about. I have a couple stories of invitations I’ve received that were an answer to my constant prayers.

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Back in July of 2017 I had just gotten back from a Steubenville retreat with my youth group. A group of us had gone up to the adoration chapel and we were trying to figure out what we wanted to do for dinner – did we want to go out to eat or stay and eat leftovers from the retreat? For one reason or another we decided to stay at the church and eat leftover pizza from the weekend. I was down in the kitchen when a woman I didn’t know named Ann approached me and asked if I was affiliated with the youth group. I told her I was and she said that she would like someone involved with the youth group to go on that year’s mission trip to El Salvador. She then asked me if I had ever considered going to El Salvador with the parish. I was honest with her and explained that the thought had never crossed my mind and wasn’t something I had ever considered. She told me she would love for me to come and encouraged me to take some time to think and pray about it.

I spent the next couple months doing just that – thinking and praying about that invitation. The more I did the more I began to realize that this invitation could very well be an answer to the prayers I’d had over the previous few months. You see, leading up to that invitation from Ann I had really been struggling with this feeling of being stuck in my life. I felt like I was just going through the motions and didn’t feel alive. I didn’t feel like I was living my life with a true sense of purpose or passion. I was searching for some sort of spark and I was praying to God, asking Him for guidance. Not once during this process did I ever think to myself, “I know exactly what to do! Go to El Salvador!” It wasn’t until I received that invitation from Ann that it dawned on me that this trip could be exactly what I was looking for.

After a few months of deliberation I decided to accept that invitation and go to El Salvador. Needless to say, the week I spent there was an answer to those prayers and then some. I felt truly alive and was living with a sense of purpose and passion that I hadn’t felt in a long time. It was an incredible feeling to look back on those struggles I was having and see that God was listening the entire time. While I was looking for an answer He responded through an invitation.

Back in October my friends Matt and Julie invited me to this new thing called VIA. They explained that is was a new ministry for young adults and asked me if I wanted to check it out with them. I joined them, not really sure what to expect, and wound up praying and worshiping alongside dozens of fellow Catholic young adults. Over the next few months I’ve come to meet so many incredible people and build lots of new friendships. There’s one thing I’ve found in VIA that I’ve been praying for over the last year or so – community.

In college I was blessed to build an incredible community of friends that supported me in everything. I was even more fortunate that a huge portion of that community lived in St. Louis after graduation. Over the next couple years we continued to grow closer together as a community. I was surrounded by the most amazing support system. Then gradually, one by one, those friends began moving away or moving on to new places and new adventures. Those friends are still my best friends in the world but it just hasn’t been the same without them here. I felt like the community I had was crumbling and fading away. With that came a sense of loneliness and isolation. I prayed to God, asking Him again for guidance. Where do I turn? Who do I turn to? Will I find that kind of community again? Little did I know that the answer to those prayers would be just on the horizon. And it would be revealed to me through an invitation.

These are just a couple invitations I’ve received in my life that have greatly impacted me. It would be impossible to list every invitation that has had a positive influence on the person that I am. However, there is one particular invitation that I have received – and continue to receive – that has had the greatest influence on my life. That is the constant and continuous invitation from God. God is always inviting me to be in communion with Him. Everyday He says to me, I want YOU to share in life with Me. I love you so much that I invite you to live your life with Me. That is an invitation that He not only extends to me but everyone. The best part about that invitation is that it isn’t a one time thing. It’s not just offered once and that’s it. It is a standing invitation that is always there for us. What’s more, that invitation isn’t conditional. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done or what we’re going through. It doesn’t go away if we’ve messed up or committed a particular sin. In fact, it’s when we’re struggling the most that He truly invites us to be with Him. It’s just a matter of whether or not we’re willing to accept that invitation.

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We all have our own invitation stories. We’ve all received invitations, big and small, that have changed our lives. However, I think it’s important to understand that everyone, as the inviter, has the capability to change other people’s lives. By inviting someone to something you can literally alter the trajectory of that person’s life. A simple invitation can give someone a sense of belonging and purpose, a feeling of self worth, and an understanding that they are valued and loved. It’s also necessary to understand that we never truly know what somebody is going through or struggling with when we extend an invitation. I guarantee Ross didn’t know just how alone I was feeling when he invited me over to his house. I guarantee Ann didn’t know how stuck I was feeling in life when she invited me to go to El Salvador. I guarantee Matt and Julie didn’t know just how much I was longing for a community when they invited me to VIA. When you extend an invitation to someone for all you know that may very well be an answer to their prayers. And keep in mind that invitations are intentional and you are saying to that person that you are choosing them. You want that person in particular to be a part of something special with you. It may not seem like much to you in that moment but it could be just what that person needs.

Now, I’ll admit, it can sometimes be difficult to invite people because of a fear of rejection. No one likes to be told no. The biggest obstacle for me personally is the fear that the person will accept the invitation and then not enjoy the experience. The simple thought of that has held me back from inviting so many people. But why should I let that stop me? So what if the person says no or doesn’t enjoy the experience? How many people have I kept from potentially experiencing something great because of that fear? Whenever I have these doubts about inviting someone, two people come to my mind: my friends Grace and Gloria.

Grace and Gloria are two former teens from my youth group and both of them perfectly embody the power of invitation. In their time in youth group the number of teens we had more than doubled. Why? Because Grace and Gloria were relentless in inviting friends, classmates, and teammates to come to youth group. On any given Sunday you could look around the room and count 15-20 teens that they invited either directly or indirectly. What impressed me most about them is that they were persistent. There were people they invited that came maybe only once or twice but they wouldn’t let that deter them from inviting someone new the next week. They were passionate about their faith and the youth group and they simply wanted other people to share in that experience with them. I’m in an incredibly unique position now where I’ve been able to witness those invitations from Grace and Gloria literally change people’s lives. If you’re ever struggling with extending an invitation, my advice to you is simple: be like Grace and Gloria.

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If you’re reading this I have a challenge for you. Over the next week invite three people to something. It can be anything – an invitation to church, an invitation to dinner or a concert, an invitation to join a group or organization, or simply an invitation to join a conversation. It doesn’t matter what it is but I encourage you invite three separate people to something within the next week. When doing so remember that you are being intentional. You are choosing that person because you want to share in something with them. While extending those invitations understand that the person you’re inviting might be struggling with something you don’t know about and that your invitation might just be an answer to their prayers. Think of your own invitation stories as motivation. Imagine where you would be if someone didn’t invite you to that one event or experience that has changed your life. Allow God to work through you so that your invitations can share love with those that need it.

 

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