Thanksgiving was everything I hoped for. Relaxation, coffee and conversation. And food, of course. But I don’t look forward to the gorging as much as I used to. Maybe my metabolism is slowing. Maybe I’m more nourished on the whole, so stuffing my face seems less necessary. (Less fear of starving between meals?) But the food was fine, don’t get me wrong. One can’t go wrong with deep fried Turkey, pork loin, mashed this-and-that, beans, salads, and beers.
There was one conversation that’s had me on edge more than I’ve realized, though. At first it seemed inconsequential. In fact, it seemed strange. But I’ve been lost in thought over it while washing the dishes. While tossing for rest in the middle of the night.
My sister told me about a mutual co-worker, some relation on her husband’s side, who works in the same building as I. And out of the kindness of his heart, seeing me eating lunch outside, alone at a picnic table, he stopped over to extend his hand in greeting and say hello. But as the story goes, I had my ear bud(dies) in, and a book open in front of me. Supposedly, I looked up, locked eyes with him, then went back to my book without saying a word. I completely ignored him, and he was deeply offended.
I couldn’t believe my ears. Not because I’m not rude. (I’m sure I am.) But more because I don’t remember it. At all. I can’t even remember a single time someone introduced themselves to me at work. (That’s just the sort of culture it is.)
It’s not that I’m concerned about that particular interaction, only because I trust we’ll be able to make amends on Monday once I track him down. Rather, I think it’s had my head spinning, wondering, “How many people have I offended without knowing it? Who else thinks I’m an arrogant jerk who hogs the toaster oven at work?” (which was another of his accusations).
I cannot control what others think of me, it’s true. And one can live at either extreme – not caring at all what others think, or being obsessively consumed by it – both of which are unhelpful.
But it was sobering to be on the receiving side of someone’s judgment.
And maybe that’s the crux of what’s been bothering me about it. How often have I uncharitably judged others without taking the time to understand their situation? Maybe he caught me on my worst day there. Maybe I was on the phone. Maybe I didn’t actually see him because my thick glasses frame blocked him from sight.
It was sort of a slap in the face reminder, “So that’s why Jesus said, ‘judge not.’ Because it divides. It doesn’t allow room for empathy and compassion. It leaves no room for patient understanding of another’s situation or hurts.
* * *
Everyone suffers. Everyone has their hurts. And those that seem to live the most fulfilled life on the surface may be the very ones who feel their inner-emptiness, their alone-ness, more starkly and sharply, simply because they expect they should be happy but aren’t. We are all pretty good at hiding our pains.
I don’t know the pain that others may be facing, but I do know that where there is darkness, even a little bit of light can be helpful.
I’ve always struggled to evangelize in the ‘be bold with Jesus’ sort of way. It seems like such a big leap, especially when I barely know someone. “Hey, did you see that Eagles game on Thursday? By the way, what do you think about God?” Then, as a result, I find I don’t want to even try to get to know anyone new because of the weight of the burden to evangelize them. It’s a downward spiral, I know. I don’t like to share the Good News in one fell swoop, so I don’t get to known anyone, so I never tell anyone about Jesus.
Lately, though, I’ve been trying to think about it more incrementally:
People are hurting all around me, whether I realize it or not.
There is darkness in all our lives.
People are in bondage to things they want to be freed from.
Relationships are hard.
People want deep relationships but are afraid of them.
Jesus is the light.
Sometimes light shines dimly, sometimes brightly.
Sometimes we are afraid of the light, when we are comfortable in the darkness.
If I can shine even a little bit of Jesus’ light, I might bring a small amount of hope to someone in darkness. I might help them to see the Light.
Simple, but I need it broken down into terms I can understand.
It is a challenge to remember these things, especially when I want to wallow in self pity, but that’s where the baby steps come in. I may not want to tell someone, ‘Jesus died for your sins,’ and as a result, clam up. But I can look them in the eye and ask them how they are, and really want to know. I can, at the least, listen to them. Because don’t we all need someone in our lives who will listen without judging? Someone to come along side us in our hurt?
* * *
Change rarely happen instantaneously. And even when it seems to, or when we experience a so called ‘breakthrough’, there’s been a lot going on behind the scenes for years to bring it about. It takes time to break free from an addiction. It takes time to learn to eat healthy. It takes time to learn a skill. Developing a healthy marriage and nurturing your children takes decades, and the work is continuous.
And change often involves people. I need help from others. I cannot do life on my own.
I change one degree at a time. And the changes are imperceptible. And from my vantage point, sometimes I think I’m going backwards. I’m more aware of my immaturity at 30 than I was at 20, or 10. Because I change so slowly, because I want others to be gracious and patient with me, shouldn’t I extend the same grace and patience toward others? If I change so slowly, shouldn’t I adjust my expectations for how quickly others will change?
Isn’t this how God treats me? Even though he sees me perfectly – imperfections, failures, sins and all – he is gracious and merciful. Slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He does not deal with me according to my sins, nor repay me according to my iniquities (from Psalm 103). He does not treat me as I deserve.
And, in so doing, I have changed. Slowly, yes. But as a result of his steadfast love, mercy and patience.
Read Slow Growth.