I had just finished filling up my tires at QT yesterday when a woman came up and tapped on my car window. Her cheeks were sunken, her teeth were rotting and her body was wasting away. She asked if she could have some money to go buy a sandwich. This woman looked like she needed a sandwich. She said she had two kids and just needed a few bucks.
At first I handed her a granola bar, because I really didn’t want to fund her addiction, but she said her teeth couldn’t handle a bar. She looked desperate…and strung out. I handed her a $5 bill and prayed she’d actually use it to buy food. She thanked me and wandered away, half dancing in her trippy state. I saw her walking back toward the gas station as I pulled out into the street. She gave me a nod with an exaggerated wave.
I couldn’t stop thinking about her all day. I wondered if she really had two kids. I wondered what else I could have done.
Who knows how she got there. Maybe she was born into it, maybe she made a couple bad decisions early on, maybe she is mentally ill, maybe she was raised in the burbs like me and met someone who fed her lies and dragged her into hard drugs. And a hard life.
I just finished Bob Goff’s Everybody, Always and it’s just about loving everybody – even those who seem creepy at first – all the time. Loving people like Jesus did. Without discrimination. Spending your life striving to become like Jesus instead of just admiring him.
Luke 12:33-34 says, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
I don’t think this means “feel terrible about having a few nice things,” rather don’t make things the true desire of your heart. Don’t make recognition – which will eventually expire – your stronghold. Making a name for yourself is just as the expression goes, for yourself.
Sometimes we justify our quest for glory because it’s going to have collateral goodness. I like the way Bob Goff writes because he’s obviously and extraordinary person, but he’s constantly catching his moments of pride and noting how pride gets in our way and keeps us from living big.
Ann Lamott had a fun story about this in Bird by Bird. She reluctantly told a friendly barista her profession. “I’m a writer.” When the barista asked for her name, she wouldn’t give it for fear of causing a scene. She is a best-selling author after all. But then she grew afraid that the barista wouldn’t know her name and she’d feel like she hadn’t actually made as big of a ripple in society as she’d thought.
After a lot of cajoling with words like “I read everything! I’ll know you!” Lamott finally gave up her identity. To Lamott’s horror, the barista looked at her coworker quizzically and said, “Hmm, actually don’t recognize that name right away…” Lamott was embarrassed and offended and humbled all at once.
When we’re out to prove our own self importance and worth, we may experience some highs and then many moments of embarrassment, ego steamrolling and ultimately, defeat.
But when we’re out to “become love” as Goff puts it, the public notice won’t be our goal. Our goal will be to help as many people as possible encounter love everyday. Use your gifts, but use them with the right motive. To build up lasting treasure, not transient compliments and glory. God doesn’t prefer the richest or the smartest or the most famous.
He loves everyone. He makes special note of those who are “poor in spirit” or humble in spirit– aware that wealth, intellect, and fame cannot bring lasting fulfillment.
That woman I saw stumbling on the street is valuable. She’s not a throw-away person. She was fearfully and wonderfully made.
My mom was in the hospital at the beginning of this year due to a very serious complication from her ovarian cancer. As I walked the halls of the hospital with her, I told her how much I admired the way she treated every person she encountered — at the dry cleaners, at the grocery store, at the post office, in the PTA, in the hospital. I grew up seeing a beautiful example of a woman who loved like Jesus.
In my adult life, I realize this isn’t an effortless thing, as my mom made it look to be. She can muster a smile and a caring question no matter how terribly her day is going. She lives to love. I told her I felt guilty because I often look down to avoid eye contact or conversation with a cashier at the store. I never saw my mom deliberately ignore anyone out of convenience. “You make everyone feel important, Mom.”
“Annie, that’s because they are important.”
She talked about the staff at the hospital, how hard they worked and how well they cared for people. Mom was the weakest she’d ever been, yet she could still love those nurses and housekeepers and doctors fiercely, like Jesus does.
“But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” 1 John 3:17-18
Don’t know about you, but I’m a lot of “love in word or talk” right now. I think the world could use an expansion in the loving “in deed and in truth” department.