Sunday, November 10, 2013
Please Be Gentle With Us...
Recently I listened to one of my students tell me their story. Their world had fallen apart. They had been betrayed and hurt and shunned by people who loved them. I could barely breathe as I was witness to what they had been through. How had they survived? How were they even standing? No wonder their homework, and getting it in on time, wasn't a top priority. Survival was.
And then, as I was driving home, I went past a corner under a bridge where homeless men hang out. I had seen them almost daily, felt helpless to do anything for them, and usually tried to smile and catch their eye. Yet this glance was different. This look chilled me to the bone.
One homeless man had a sign around his neck. It read
"Please be gentle with us. You don't know our story."
I couldn't breathe as I saw that sign. It was almost as if Jesus was standing on that corner with the sign around His neck, looking directly at me. The tears started to flow. I went to the nearest McDonalds and got six happy meals. I went back to the corner and gave them the food. I told them I was sorry that I had driven by them day-after-day and done nothing to help.
The homeless man, amazingly enough and not a surprise, was a Veteran who had once been in my class. I just didn't recognize him until he told me his name. I asked if he had ever been to SCC and he had. He looked at my hand and said, "You're Linda, aren't you? I was in your class, but I've fallen on hard times." I knew, for certain, that this was what we call in our family.."A God thing." God reaching down to teach me a lesson about me, and not a very pretty one I might add.
What follows in this post are a few of the life-lessons God is teaching me right now. This isn't easy for me to write about as I am still in the midst of the lessons. So here goes:
I am convinced that we never truly really know another person's story.
Oh, don't get me wrong. We think we know who someone is, what someone has been through, what someone should be doing with their life, what their story is. We often have agendas about how their life would be better if they just did X, Y, and Z. We may even be a bit mad at them, or a lot mad at them, and withdraw ourselves physically and emotionally because we have judgments about their messy life and how they have made it a mess.
We hold ourselves up and compare ourselves to them and feel somewhat inflated. Look how well things are going for me. It's an opportunity, however disguised, for one-ups-man-ship, for a moment of false pride. We may even whisper, to those who will listen, "There they go again. I just knew they would never learn. Isn't that just like them?" We present them in our own minds and hearts as flawed people we need to avoid. Or if not avoid, be sure to let them know of our not-so-subtle criticism of who they are, the choices they make, all said, or shouted, with contempt disguised as caring.
I am convinced that we have NEVER, EVER really walked in their shoes.
In our not so subtle ignorance, we make them wrong. We feel better about ourselves because we sit as judge and jury. Instead of embracing them for who they are, where they are...we want them to be something different, someone different.
I am convinced that giving grace to others mean seeing them the way that Jesus sees them.
When I say we, in this discussion, I really mean I. I do this. I want certain people to do XY and Z and not do XY and Z. I want them to fit what is comfortable for me. I am disapproving, if only in my heart, of the choices they make. I have subtle criticism in my tone of voice.
Sadly, I am convinced that I do not, do not, do not see them the way that Jesus sees them.
I'm not sure when this disgusting arrogance surfaced in my life, but I remember its re-emergence when I was in my mid-thirties. Yet for some time now it has been bubbling up again, from time to time, and when I see it and own it I am truly ashamed.
How arrogant is it to assume I know what is best for someone else? How arrogant is it to have my focus be on what they should be doing instead of changing my own heart? How arrogant is it to lack empathy for the unfathomable pain they have been through?
I recently apologized to someone I know and love for trying to squeeze a square peg into a round hole.
Truthfully, I have probably felt sort of baffled by some of the choices they were making in the aftermath of their life being turned upside down. I loved them completely and with my whole heart, yet I wanted them to be more like me. They have recently been very, very hurt by someone they loved, yet I seemed to have questions about how they coped with this unspeakable pain.
Would it really take them wearing a sign that said,
"Please be gentle with me. You don't really know my story." for me to get it?
I feel so ashamed as I write this. I wonder what hurts I have caused them by my questions and inference, probably not too subtle, that they should do their life differently. I told them I was sorry. In truth, I probably added more pain to what was already heart-breaking. Owning that, and imagining how that may have hurt them even more by not offering completely unconditional love, leaves tears streaming down my face.
I am convinced that God made ALL of us in His image and that we are uniquely created by Him.
God did not intend to make everyone like me. How DARE I have anything but love toward His creations!
I have felt the nudging of Jesus in this area, and the nudging has not been easy. It is not easy to own arrogance and distance and judgments, everything I HATE when they are done to me. And I am not immune to the fact that others I know also heap criticism on them. WE have taken a hard situation and made it worse.
The... if you don't do it the way I think it should be done, or you'll feel my contempt and I'll be angry at you...speaks of a part of my childhood that turned me into a people-pleaser for all the wrong reasons.
I am convinced that when Jesus said "Love is patient, love is kind." that He really meant that!
And so as this journey unfolds, I am so grateful this Sunday morning to be loved by a God who loves me just as I am, but loves me too much to leave me this way. I am grateful for the Veteran on the corner
who gave his all for his country and has fallen on hard times. We have a plan to get him some help.
I am so very grateful for the forgiveness of of those I have hurt by my assumptions that they should
do it my way.
As the gospel song says:
I want to walk like Jesus walks
I want to talk like Jesus talks...
I am praying for an even more compassionate heart and that I might love people the way Jesus does.
I have a loooooong way to go to do this, but I am making progress in inches.
"If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old." ...