Peripheral Vision

Aug 28 / Jenny Gehman
*Reprinted with permission from Anabaptist World magazine,*

My husband and I lost our places of belonging on the same day.

It was Nov. 1, 2016, and I was on a retreat in Chicago. At the time, I was serving as the founder and director of a flourishing retreat ministry and having the time of my life.

Simultaneously, I had been sensing an unfathomable nudge from God to lay it all down.

I went to the chapel to have it out with God for the final time, a showdown of sorts. After loud laments and lots of listening, I picked my knees up off the hard floor and slid back onto the pew. I had surrendered, and I would step down from my role.

My tear-stained eyes and I returned to my room, where I set down my journals and picked up my phone. A text message scrolled across the screen.

Call me. I just lost my job.

It was from my husband. Within minutes, we both lost our places, our people, our provisions, and our passions. He was 60 years old.

What now?

Over the past six years, I’ve been chasing after a new place to belong. It’s possible I’ve been chasing such a place since my birth.

It’s certain that on that November day in 2016, my husband and I were both moved from center stage to a peripheral place, and I’ve been longing for a return ever since.

Periphery means a marginal or secondary position. It involves a shift in power, place, and proximity.

I wonder if, as we age, we feel more and more removed from the center of things. We’re farther from the center of relationship roles or the busy work world.

Age is not the only thing to push us to the periphery. We can be flung far by health problems, disabilities, race, economic status, gender, and more.

“He came and preached peace to you who were far away,” the apostle Paul said of Jesus (Ephesians 2:17, NIV).

“The Great Preacher of peace and love came for you, and His voice found those of you who were . . . far away” (Voice).

He came for you. The great preacher of peace and love. He came. And his voice found you. You who were far away.

Peace to you on the periphery.

When I’m pushed to the periphery, all kinds of voices find me, and they don’t all sound like peace and love to my aching ears. Mostly they sound like rejection and abandonment. Like you’re not wanted. Like we’ve moved on. Voices informing me I’ve gone from being indispensable to inconsequential.

Peace to me on the periphery. And love.

Jesus was drawn to the outcasts, to those spun far from the center. Could it be that this is the best place to hear his very good news?

Peace to you on the periphery. And love. The preacher has come for you.

For you.

The gospel story of the woman at the well (John 4) has been showing up in numerous places around me over the last couple of weeks. She knew the periphery well; she had been moved from the middle to the margins, step by devastating step.

I’d been led to believe this was her own fault, caused by her immoral behavior. Then a preacher challenged that for me. She had five husbands, yes, but all that means is she lost her place of belonging five times.

Five times, can you imagine? Five times left. Five times abandoned through death or divorce. Five times moved farther from the middle of everyone else’s bustling lives to the margins of inexplicable grief and loss.

And even now, the man she had was not her husband. Even here, she was denied a taking in, a belonging place.

I wonder: What voices did she hear there? Her own and those of others? Did those voices drive her even farther out and away? I imagine the sad answer to that last question is yes.

Here we see in action what Paul referred to in Ephesians 2:17. The Great Preacher of peace and love came for the Samaritan woman. His voice found her far away. His voice of compassion. His voice of love.

His voice restored to her a place in his kingdom and her community. That was something this great preacher would do time and time again.

“Peace, peace, to the far and the near, says the Lord, and I will heal them” (Isaiah 57:19).

May we in the middle be moved to the margins and carry Christ’s love with us there.

Jenny Gehman
Jenny Gehman is a freelance writer and retreat speaker, currently pursuing a certificate in spiritual direction. She was trained as a music therapist, but hospitality is her heartbeat. She is a firm believer in the wild, wide-open, warm-hearted welcome of God, our “Holy Host,” and believes it is at God’s table we are healed and made whole.

Jenny lives in the Amish Country of Pennsylvania with her husband, son, and usually a visitor or two. She enjoys crackling fires, classical music, and chocolate of the darkest variety.

You can learn more about Jenny and sign up to receive her weekly Little Life Words by visiting her website.