I sense there are some serious posts coming up on this space soon. I’ve invited a couple of folks to weigh in, and I expect they’ll bring the heat–though more importantly, I believe they will bring some crucial light. Stay tuned.
Meanwhile, a Saturday afternoon reflection of a gentler nature. I believe a whole bunch of crazy stuff: I believe forgiveness is more powerful than hatred, kindness is a great response to rudeness, and treating people well should not be measured by how they respond but by the much more subjective test of whether or not I know in my heart that I am doing the right thing. As I discussed elsewhere, faithfulness is the measure God gives us, not effectiveness.
It follows, then, that my part in someone else’s life will often be unclear and uncertain to me. Rarely does someone approach me and God says, “You will be influential in this person’s life in the following ways: x, y, z.” Okay, never. (I could argue that I had some clear instructions upon first seeing Kim, but that might be stretching–or rewriting–what an increased pulse rate means).
A radical notion I firmly hold is that God may be trying to bless everyone in my sphere through me.
While that sinks in, let me state clearly that I don’t always go along with this plan. I don’t always ask. I would do better if I always asked, but ofttimes my mind is elsewhere. And sometimes I just don’t like people, so I’m not even trying.
In my coming-on-thirty-years of hanging out with Jesus, I notice that a bunch of the time, I have no idea whether I am blessing, helping, hurting, or playing a neutral role in someone else’s life. I mean, I can guess. But I don’t have anything very strong to go on. I have an over-fondness for being liked, respected, and appreciated that gets me into a fair bit of trouble, especially in my own head. Being motivated by those things does not always lead me to love people well. Loving people and building a fan club turn out to be strikingly different propositions.
So it is with moderate surprise and massive gratitude that I notice recently God seems to be going out of his way to help me see positive things happening through my efforts to love the folks in my sphere. If I had to guess, I would attribute this to a)God’s kindness vis-a-vis my insecurities, and b)my need for reassurance that I’m on the right track with the ministry I’m doing here.
Here are a few observations from this unusual time:
1) People are watching. I recently had a great conversation about discipling and mentoring with another guy who is deeply committed to students. I came away profoundly encouraged and excited about how we might call others to seek mentoring relationships. He had the broader vision; I was just doing what I do. In no way was I actively trying to influence him, but it became very clear in our conversation that I have, and he strongly affirmed how his seeing me has helped him. The person watching us is also in our sphere.
2) “Minor” relationships can have a big impact. Recently, someone I am friends with on what I would consider a relatively superficial level said to me possibly the most affirming thing about my impact I have heard in recent memory. I have had opportunities for less personal influence, such as speaking at and leading a discussion group for an event the person attended. But I had no idea how strongly God was working through me…until the person told me, point blank. Again, I experience that as a huge grace. It drove home that God may be doing big things through small interactions.
3) Jesus says “love your enemies,” but I have a lot more people who annoy me than whom
I count as flat-out enemies…and loving them makes a big difference. People who annoy me may have personalities that conflict with mine, habits that I find irritating, abilities that I find disproportionate in someone who is not me, or they just may do stupid stuff (come on, it’s not all my fault!). The radical message of the Gospel is that I don’t get to settle for “You irritate me so bug off!” In this sense, I believe the people by whom we are irritated are our enemies, and I get to figure out how to love them, pray for them, even try to see how God might want to bless me through them. Jesus challenges me to serve them. There are so many counter-arguments to these behaviors that I won’t even start a list; the problem is, none of them are compatible with Jesus’ love in the Gospels or his grace in my life. Jesus loved me while I was still his enemy. He has loved me through abhorrent behavior, including a long stretch in which I told him in no uncertain terms where he should go (it wasn’t “out for ice cream.”).
Once again, my recent theme of God showing me how he’s working has caught me off guard. God has shown me how showing kindness and affirming people who bug the living skubula* out of me can have a powerful influence on them. Nope, they didn’t suddenly repent of all behavior that annoyed me (making me suspicious, yet again, that it’s not all about me), but I could see something good happening–and then God drove the point home through someone else telling me point blank, “You have really helped.”
Grrr! — I mean, Great! I’m joking on that one. It’s humbling to discover that God is at work through us for the benefit of the very people whom we have trouble loving.
I haven’t even addressed how God is working in me as I try to be faithful with how I am influencing others. In God’s economy, that may be equally or even more important (e.g. it may turn out I was the annoying one all along). Those are thoughts for another day.
Today, I’m thanking God for what he is showing me–and trying to live, and love, with open eyes.
*”σκύβαλα”, transliterated from the Greek as skubula, is the word Paul uses when he writes “More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as σκύβαλα, in order that I may gain Christ.” This is variously translated “I regard them as rubbish, garbage, refuse,” and from The King James, “dung.” In The Message, Eugene Peterson uses “dog dung.” I think that’s as close as it gets…but the word means “shit.” Paul intentionally used a strong and vulgar word for excrement to convey his meaning and that is our closest equivalent. He wrote this in a letter in the Bible. If that offends you, I’m sorry, but do look it up.