a good friend of mine recently cleared out his dining room and put everything in storage so that one of his employees would have a place to live over the summer. it helped that the dining room was actually a bedroom to begin with. but he didn’t stop there. when he found out that this guy had never had new bedding his entire life, he went out and bought him an entire new setup. new bed. new bedding. and, when it came down to two comforters, a down comforter and an imitation down comforter, he decided to go with the down comforter, even though it represented a significant cost increase.
almost as if to defend his decision, he explained that he knew both comforters would be good enough, but it wasn’t about just giving this guy a bed that would be good enough. “ultimately, it’s not about me serving (this guy),” he explained, “it’s about me serving The Lord.”
i don’t know a whole lot about mother theresa. but when i hear or think of her name, my mind immediately pictures an older woman, worn hands, wrinkled smile, helping the poor in a village somewhere far from here. somewhere very unlike the conditions i am used to.
i heard something pretty interesting said of mother theresa years ago, though, something that has stuck with me ever since. i heard that she was once asked, “why do you love the poor so much?” and her response was quite shocking… “i don’t love the poor,” she was said to have responded. “i love Jesus Christ. but when i look at the poor, i see Christ.”
smile for a change
the other day i made a quick stop at the grocery store to pick up some dinner before coming home after work. as i entered through the double doors and made my way past the vast cheese selection, a man in an electric wheelchair crossed my path on the way to the eggs. he was a pretty rough looking man. more beard than legs. eyes heavy. the kind of man you would assume had received his injuries in battle. and as he passed in front of me, i was overcome by a smile. without being able to explain it any differently, it was my natural response. and, in turn, i received an incredibly warm and congenial smile from this man.
not that i am deserving sainthood for simply smiling at a stranger, but it seemed as though a simple smile, in that situation, was Christ’s way of working through my life to touch someone else (or was it the other way around?).
at one point in His ministry, Jesus told his disciples a story,
“…I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? when did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? when did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
the King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'”
faith that goes out
and i think that gets back to this quote from mother theresa. we are to love those in our life we come across, particularly the hungry, the stranger, those in need of clothes or just a friend. and we’re to love them because, through loving them, we are loving Christ.
when i look at my own life, and the love that i give to others, there’s certainly a pattern. typically, the amount of love that you receive from me is directly proportional to the amount of care, love, concern you show for me. almost as if to reciprocate the attention you have shown me. and, if that’s the case, if my love for you is dependent upon your love for me, then i could potentially live a very unloving life, which is a pretty scary thought. it’s the makings of a very lonely life, indeed.
and yet, Christ calls us to a very different lifestyle. one in which we love others not because of what they will do for us, or have done for us, but simply because, through doing so, we are loving Him. and that changes everything.
that changes the way i approach a disabled veteran in the grocery store. that changes the way i love family members who only seem to bring pain by the paths they’re walking. it changes the way i treat complete strangers, or the passerby on the sidewalk. it changes the way i treat the hungry. it changes the way i treat those who are cold or living broken lives.
but it’s not just about being ‘a nice guy,’ it’s not about just doing enough. for, if your love was about just doing enough, it would hardly be special. it would hardly make the recipient feel special. would a brand new synthetic down comforter be enough to keep someone warm and comfortable at night? absolutely! is it a step above, though? is it exceptional? for, if we are really serving Him, our acts of service should be more than ‘just enough.’
what would happen if you took every opportunity, every encounter and interaction with someone as an opportunity to show them the love of Christ? those you know. those you don’t.
what if you looked at every conversation as an opportunity to show that person how Christ listens to us?
what if you told others how much they mean to you (in the same way that God has told us how much we mean to Him)?
what if you encouraged those who need to be encouraged?
what if we lived life in a way that showed others that their life was more important to us than our own?
faith like a virus
i can’t help but think that that would make a difference. first in the lives of a few, but then in the lives of many. that, by seeing and experiencing this kind of lifestyle, others would want to follow and do the same for others. and that, through that, it would spread. it would spread and multiply in a way that changed the lives of many.
what if your faith was like a virus? a virus that gives life, rather than takes it away (what c.s. lewis called the “good infection“). what if your life changed the life next to you? what if it changed it for the better?
and, were we to be looking down on this picture from above, we could almost see it move and grow, like one of those diagrams that shows the spread of a virus. first across your town, then across the state and into the next, then moving even further.
i can’t help but think that’s the picture God gets to look down on and enjoy. smiling to Himself, knowing that it was the life of His Son that started it all.