A strange thought came to me earlier today. I was sitting at Subway eating my usual foot-long Black Forest ham on Italian herbs and cheese when I happened to notice a lady sitting across the restaurant from me staring out the window. She had finished her sandwich and was munching on a cookie while sipping her soda. Every thing about her suggested that she wasn’t in a hurry; she chewed slowly, sipped sparingly, and sighed heavily, almost as if she was bored. By all appearances, she was lonely. I wondered, if God had a Facebook account, would she be in His newsfeed?
Obviously she would be – more so because God doesn’t need Facebook to see what’s going on in everyone’s lives, but even if He did need Facebook, she’d show up in His newsfeed. Heck, He might even have it set up to be notified every time she posted something (a feature I found kind of pointless due to the fact that everyone I received notifications about popped up in my newsfeed). But God sees the good and the bad; popular and unpopular; and the befriended and lonely. And careless of popularity points or approval ratings, He loves each and every one of them.
Loving others like God has loved us, to put it mildly, is exceedingly difficult. Not only is it within our nature to be around people who make us feel good or accepted or validated, but our selfish, “independent,” American culture has trained us to instinctively care for ourselves before we care for others. It has taught us “out with the bad and in with the good” so that we just might attain that level of happiness we desperately pursue. And as evidenced with Facebook’s newsfeed settings (as confusing as they are), we’re able to pick and choose the people we care about and the lives we affect.
I really wish I had acted against my selfish tendencies at lunch today. I really wish I had sat down next to her to eat my sandwich and make some empty comment about the weather or allergies or whatever just so that she’d know I at least saw her. Jesus says in Matthew 25 that He’ll welcome God’s people for having visited people who were sick, estranged, or in prison, something kind of like sitting with someone who looked lonely and commenting about the weather. No, I’m not beating myself up for a missed opportunity; I’m saying it was missed opportunity because I want to get it right next time and every time after. I want be effective at loving others as God has loved me.
Sometimes I feel like a third-grader reading a book together with the rest of the class when the teacher asks for a volunteer and I’m simply avoiding eye-contact so I won’t have to read. But instead of the teacher asking for a volunteer, I am asking for a volunteer. And instead of reading a book, we’re helping people. And instead of avoiding the teacher’s eyes, I’m avoiding God’s eyes because I am asking who’ll feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the lonely, heal the sick, and so on and I can feel Him looking right at me. I don’t want to turn around because I’m afraid it will be me having to help.
In Mark 6:30-44, Jesus’ disciples seem a little upset that their rest was being disrupted by the thousands of people eager to hear Jesus teach. They told Him to send the crowds away so they could eat, but Jesus flips it around on His disciples: “You give them something to eat,” (6:37). His disciples are dumbfounded and tell him no one could afford that much bread. All the while they forgot the Apostles were empowered to cast out demons and heal sick people – literally the same chapter. But I guess feeding people is more challenging than casting out demons…
My point is that we have a tendency to sit around and wait for someone else to reach out to the socially unfavorable while God is looking us in the eye saying, “You go and do it.” And then we have the audacity to say, “But God, there’s no way I could reach them; I’d have to hang out with them and learn what they like and maybe even root for a sports team I hate. Clearly, you got the wrong guy.” All the while we, just like the disciples, ignore the power God has given us – a power that compelled Paul to say, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me,” (Phil. 4:13).
If it sounds like I’m a little frustrated with myself, I kind of am. I’ve been at this Christian thing for eleven years and I’m still making rookie mistakes. But like I said above, I’m not writing about my failures to beat myself up; I’m trying to get them right. Of all the things in the world that I could be good at, loving as God has loved me is the most important. As Paul says:
“If I speak in tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing,” – 1 Cor. 13:1-3
It’s all for nothing if you don’t love. And I don’t mean loving those who love you back or the popular, rich, and powerful. I’m talking about the ones no one else sees. We – those among us who proclaim Jesus as their everything – are the light of the world; therefore, we see everyone, not just the people we want to see.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,” – John 1:5
May we take a lesson from Mark 6; that our lives are not about ourselves, but rather the people around us. And it need not be more complicated than asking someone how things are going or talking about the weather. Love ’em, for the love of God.