Introductory Note:

Randy Schrock courageously shares how God delivered him from a sense of worthlessness and shame. His raw and touching narrative includes some heavy topics—emotional abuse, pornography, and suicide. It is a powerful reminder that God’s salvation encompasses all types of brokenness and woundedness, and it is encouraging to know that we can join God in this work. From his own experience, Randy distills four principles for practicing hospitality towards the wounded, rejected, and isolated in our own unique settings.

Renovaré Team

When I entered high school at four­teen, I was lost, awk­ward, and painful­ly shy. My per­son­al and social dis­ori­en­ta­tion was more than the aver­age ado­les­cent iden­ti­ty cri­sis. My con­cern was not where or with whom I belonged, but rather if I belonged at all. I ques­tioned my val­ue as a human being.

This unfa­vor­able self-assess­ment had sev­er­al sources. In part, my shame devel­oped from being immersed in the cesspool of pornog­ra­phy from an ear­ly age. I expe­ri­enced a sense of per­son­al degra­da­tion because these images pos­sessed such a pow­er­ful hold on my young mind.

A more sig­nif­i­cant cat­a­lyst for my bleak self-appraisal was my father. It was he who facil­i­tat­ed my expo­sure to sex­u­al­ly explic­it mate­ri­als as he left them scat­tered around the house. His influ­ence did not end there. He direct­ly attacked my sense of worth with a con­stant bar­rage of demean­ing remarks. He belit­tled me. He reject­ed my best efforts and dis­dained my accom­plish­ments. The anx­i­ety of nev­er being able to meet my father’s expec­ta­tions filled me with self-doubt and left me feel­ing incom­pe­tent. His ten­den­cy to become angry with lit­tle provo­ca­tion left me timid.

Years of deri­sion and dis­cour­age­ment left an indeli­ble imprint. My dad’s assess­ment became deeply embed­ded in my mind, my heart, and my soul until I con­sid­ered myself worth­less. While I nev­er con­sid­ered sui­cide, I have met sev­er­al young peo­ple over the years whose sim­i­lar self-assess­ments led them to such thoughts. They just want to escape the pain or relieve oth­ers of the bur­den they per­ceive them­selves to be.

I was reject­ed by my father, ignored by peers, and, I assumed, loath­some to God. How could any­one val­ue some­one as pathet­ic as me? I was con­fused in mul­ti­ple ways, but at the core was this spir­i­tu­al alien­ation. All aspects of my inter­nal chaos arose out of this fun­da­men­tal real­i­ty. This is why I came into high school so lost. 

But there was a small light at the end of the tun­nel, a dream that God would use to help me dis­cov­er my val­ue and belovedness. 

I might have been inept in human rela­tion­ships but I con­nect­ed well with ani­mals. So I dreamed of becom­ing a vet­eri­nar­i­an. I expressed this vision to my guid­ance coun­selor who assigned me to take biol­o­gy with one of the best teach­ers at that high school, Mr. Rasmussen.

In the end, I would not become a vet­eri­nar­i­an, but pur­su­ing this goal opened the door to a life-chang­ing rela­tion­ship. I met a man who val­ued me. In the many hours after school that we spent togeth­er clean­ing his class­room, tend­ing the lab ani­mals, and talk­ing about sci­ence, Mr. Ras­mussen cared enough to get to know me.

What did Mr. Ras­mussen offer me? He spoke words of encour­age­ment, yet he was not a coun­selor and nev­er tried to pro­vide ther­a­py. He main­tained good bound­aries. I was his stu­dent, not his friend. And he was my teacher, not a sub­sti­tute father fig­ure. He sim­ply made a con­nec­tion which some­what alle­vi­at­ed my sense of worth­less­ness. He accom­plished this by being a good host — he made space for me in his lab and his life and helped me to feel com­fort­able in his pres­ence. Mr. Ras­mussen offered me hos­pi­tal­i­ty. This was a trans­for­ma­tive gift.

By God’s grace, over time, I was sub­stan­tial­ly deliv­ered from my strug­gles. As painful as my jour­ney was, it has proved invalu­able in my work with wound­ed, neglect­ed, and aban­doned chil­dren and teenagers. For more than twen­ty years I have had the priv­i­lege of work­ing with this pop­u­la­tion, which sad­ly is ever-increasing.

I’ve learned that hos­pi­tal­i­ty is a cru­cial aspect of the com­pas­sion­ate life of Jesus — a life he invites us to imi­tate. We are called to love our neigh­bors. Ful­fill­ing this call­ing requires us to give not just our resources but our very selves to those in need. Paul com­mends the hos­pi­tal­i­ty of the Mace­don­ian church­es, because they exceed­ed our expec­ta­tions: They gave them­selves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us” (2 Corinthi­ans 8:5 NIV).

How can we give our­selves to the least, the lost, and the lone­ly, as Mr. Ras­mussen offered him­self to me? My expe­ri­ence with trou­bled young peo­ple has taught me that Christ­like hos­pi­tal­i­ty embod­ies the fol­low­ing four commitments:

1. Gen­tle Persistence

Chil­dren or adults who have been ignored, mis­treat­ed, and reject­ed will like­ly be sus­pi­cious of our efforts to offer our­selves to them. This is to be expected.

We must not be put off by their mis­trust­ful respons­es, unpleas­ant atti­tudes, or poor behav­ior. They may test us or delib­er­ate­ly incite us to reject them. At any time, they can choose to walk away, but, for our part, we must com­mit to uncon­di­tion­al­ly leav­ing the invi­ta­tion open.1 We offer gen­tle­ness and per­sis­tence in our hos­pi­tal­i­ty. This allows wound­ed peo­ple to feel safe low­er­ing their defen­sive walls and opens the way for emo­tion­al, phys­i­cal, and spir­i­tu­al trans­for­ma­tion through healthy interactions.

2. Uncon­di­tion­al Acceptance

The writer of Hebrews reminds us: Do not neglect to show hos­pi­tal­i­ty to strangers…” (Hebrews 13:2). The strangest guests we may ever host are those I describe as the least, lost, and lone­ly. These wound­ed and trou­bled peo­ple will not always be easy to tol­er­ate. They may be dirty and disheveled and pro­fane. And yet, we must rec­og­nize true hos­pi­tal­i­ty is wel­com­ing the stranger on her own terms…” (Nouwen, Reach­ing Out, 72). This means that we accept the per­son as they are and as a human being, not as we want them to be or as a project.” We for­go ulte­ri­or motives (which they can detect). Cer­tain­ly, we desire their heal­ing and trans­for­ma­tion, but we fol­low Jesus’ exam­ple and love peo­ple whether or not they make progress. Hen­ri Nouwen clar­i­fies, the pur­pose of hos­pi­tal­i­ty is not to change peo­ple, but to offer them space where change can take place” (Nouwen, Reach­ing Out, 71).

3. Vic­ar­i­ous Suffering

Accept­ing peo­ple on their own terms includes receiv­ing the indi­vid­ual along with their wound­ed­ness. They come to us lone­ly, aban­doned, and trau­ma­tized, and our hos­pi­tal­i­ty should encom­pass their grief and pain. Offer­ing hos­pi­tal­i­ty to wound­ed peo­ple means that we enter into their suf­fer­ing. We mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).

Madeleine L’ Engle writes, Com­pas­sion means to be with, to share, to over­lap (with the oth­er) no mat­ter how dif­fi­cult or painful it might be. And com­pas­sion is indeed painful…” (L’Engle, Gen­e­sis Tril­o­gy, 69).

This empa­thet­ic process is beau­ti­ful­ly illus­trat­ed by Wal­ter Wan­gerin in his short sto­ry Rag­man.” A Christ­like fig­ure goes from one wound­ed per­son to anoth­er col­lect­ing their rags and offer­ing them clean linen and heal­ing. In one sce­nario, he takes the soiled hand­ker­chief of a sob­bing young woman, holds it up to his own eyes, and begins weep­ing her tears (Wan­gerin, Rag­man, 4). The the­o­log­i­cal term for this is vic­ar­i­ous suf­fer­ing. While we are not Christ and can­not ful­ly assume another’s pain, as Christ’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives we are called to be with those who suf­fer and share their tears.

4. A Seed-Sow­ing Perspective

Like Paul and Apol­los, we plant and water (1 Corinthi­ans 3:6). We pray that our care, per­sis­tence, patience, and accep­tance will sow seeds that help lost peo­ple dis­cov­er their iden­ti­ty as God’s beloved. But we must remem­ber that, as Paul declares, it is God who gives the growth. In offer­ing hos­pi­tal­i­ty, it is impor­tant for us to forego expec­ta­tions as to when and what type of change will occur. We pray and trust God to pro­duce growth in his time.

Mr. Ras­mussen cre­at­ed a safe space for me. He accept­ed me as I was. He was com­pas­sion­ate and per­sis­tent. His atten­tive care pro­vid­ed evi­dence that I pos­sessed val­ue and worth. His hos­pi­tal­i­ty plant­ed a seed that chal­lenged the neg­a­tive self-image hold­ing me cap­tive. This seed, though, would not bear fruit until I left high school.

It took many years to rec­og­nize the sig­nif­i­cance of Mr. Rasmussen’s influ­ence on my heal­ing. In this life, he nev­er knew his impact on me. Like­wise, we may nev­er know the impact we make on one of these least, lost, and lone­ly peo­ple. But God does.

L’ Engle, Madeleine. The Gen­e­sis Tril­o­gy. Water­brook Press, Col­orado Springs, Co, 1997.

Nouwen, Hen­ri J. M. Reach­ing Out: The Three Move­ments of the Spir­i­tu­al Life. Image, New York, 1975.

Wan­gerin, Wal­ter, Jr. Rag­man and Oth­er Sto­ries of Faith. Harper­Collins, New York, 1994.

Art: Vin­cent van Gogh. The Sow­er, cir­ca June 17 – 28, 1888. Oil on can­vas, 64.280.3 cm. Kröller-Müller Museum.

Text First Published January 2022 · Last Featured on January 2022

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