As I’ve shared, I grew up in a pretty sheltered environment, and was very blessed to have great parents. I know there are many who didn’t and don’t have that luxury. One of the greatest things my parents modeled for me was how to treat others. I never witnessed my parents being disrespectful or losing their cool with anyone, even people they disagreed with. Civility and respect were required. My dad could be pretty intense sometimes, but I never saw him take it out on anyone unless he was extremely provoked. My mother was one of the sweetest and most kind women I have ever known.
When I was in high school, there was a young man that wondered around the streets of Blairsville. He was kind of hard to miss. He had a quirky motion when he walked. He had several nervous ticks. If you got close enough, you could hear him uttering strange sounds, almost demonic, and what seemed like a foreign language. He was never violent or a threat, but something wasn’t right. People definitely avoided him. The legend goes that Tommy was a very bright person and attended a local college. While at college it is said that he “dropped acid” one time, and it fried his brain. I’m not sure the “one time” part was true, but it was obvious that something dramatic happened. He made a poor decision. His condition was self-inflicted, and he paid the price. At one time, he had a bright future, and then it was gone.
I attended First Baptist Church in Blairsville in high school. That’s where most of my close friends went. My parents went to a smaller church for a while but eventually followed me to First Baptist. This is where I think my mom and Tommy met. Occasionally Tommy would just show up at church and wonder around in the building. No one threw him out, but there was always someone who would intercept him before he just wandered into a Sunday school class or the worship service. The interceptor would usually just talk with Tommy for a little bit, which was difficult to do, and then he would just leave. They were always very gracious and understanding.
I’m not sure when but I remember one Sunday when I came home from church that Tommy was at our house for lunch. My mom had invited him. It was uncomfortable and awkward. It was weird at first, but my mom continued to invite him to the house for a meal, so I got used to it. He had apparently been taking some of his meds because his communication was a little better than usual.
Unfortunately, Tommy’s behavior became too erratic to deal with, and he wasn’t always good about taking the meds. My mom didn’t give up on him, but there wasn’t a lot she could do when he got really bad. She wasn’t trained to deal with this type of mental disorder. Eventually I went off to college, Tommy disappeared, and I don’t know what happened to him.
My mother’s efforts were an act of kindness, nothing more. Should my mom have been disappointed because she was unable to rehabilitate him or turn his life around? What sense of validation did she receive for her efforts?
Our “acts of kindness” can sometimes be loaded with specific expectations of a return on our investments. A sense of worth or value is placed on just about everything we do. Was it worth it? Was Tommy worthy of my mom’s efforts? Did he deserve it? Was it a valuable experience for her? Did she benefit from it?
I can’t speak for how my Mom felt, but knowing her as I did, I know it was worth it for her. What she did for Tommy was about him and not her. She wanted the best for Tommy, and I’m sure that included a desire for him to have a better quality of life for himself. If there was any disappointment, it wasn’t in Tommy. It was probably because she wished she could have done more. But, in the end, she had very little control over the outcome. For her, it was about what God had called her to do.
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8 (NIV)
Someone shared this verse with me this week in response to last weeks devotional about favorite verses in the Bible. I appreciated the reminder. I love this verse as well. It’s so important to remember what we are called and required by God to do, in spite of our feelings, motivations, and expectations. It’s not about whether it’s worth it or whether someone deserves it or not. It’s about what God wants.
We didn’t deserve or earn God’s favor. Thankfully, God has always remained faithful in spite of our willful disobedience. He has never given up on us. He sent His son Jesus who was willing to give his life for us without any guarantee of return on investment.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8 (NIV)
A few weeks ago, we looked at Matthew 25 during our worship services.
“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, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:37-40 (NIV)
This passage has always been troubling to me because I worry that I have failed to see or recognize Jesus disguised as one of the “least of these”. Of course we know that the “least of these” represents anyone and everyone. In a culture of “us versus them” entitlement it’s easy to feel superior, that we are the “most or greatest” rather than the “least”. Jesus said “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35 NIV)
I don’t think my mother considered Tommy to be one of the “least”. To her Tommy was a special guest and worthy of a greater place at our table. Each day, we have to remind ourselves that we are here to serve, not to be served. We are the “least”, and “they” are the greatest. Those who may be viewed as “unworthy” or “undeserving” because of their behavior or choices deserve the same grace that we ourselves have received.
When I worked for Chick-Fil-A, I was required to say, “It’s my pleasure”. At first it was really annoying to have to say it all the time, but after a while I really embraced it. Yes, it was a job, but it was “my pleasure” to serve others. Being fair, merciful, and humble towards our fellow man may feel like a requirement or an obligation sometimes. But if we embrace the true spirit behind it, it becomes so much more. Obedience and what is required brings greater joy. I think it’s what Jesus meant when He said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:9-11 NIV)
Director of Family Ministry and Facility Management