Here’s a very interesting concept to consider. Our interactions with people can be positive or negative. The person with whom you connected could walk away from the encounter being the better for it, while conversely, the same person could also walk away from the encounter worse than before. The key factor is you and what you do with that time you have with the person.
Consider this scenario…you’re working out in your yard and your neighbor comes to you because he just wants someone to talk to. He may not be depressed or sad, but just craving conversation at that time. So while you’re raking your leaves he comes over to you and engages in small talk to be friendly. You put your rake down for a moment, relishing the opportunity to take a break, and the two of you begin talking for a total of five minutes. At the end, you exchange pleasantries…he goes home…you finish raking…and your neighbor comes away with a good feeling about you and the thought that he feels welcome to visit when he needs to.
Now, consider this scenario…you’re working out in your yard and your neighbor comes to you because he just wants someone to talk to. He may not be depressed or sad, but just craving conversation at that time. So while you’re raking your leaves he comes over to you and engages in small talk to be friendly. This time you don’t stop raking and just listen to him, but rather, you continue to pile your leaves in the front yard. The only acknowledgment you give your neighbor is one or two “yup” and “I see.” At the end of the exchange, you neighbor will most certainly go home feeling like he intruded and will most likely not feel welcome, nor entertain the idea of stopping by for a chat in the future.
I’ll bet that same scenario plays out in the church before and after worship and during the greetings. I know it does, because I’ve done it. Someone comes to you in the service and wants to shake your hand and greet you. Do you look them in the eye and wholeheartedly wish them well at the same time, or do you shake their hand out of habit or duty as you look past them to see where the person, whom you really want to greet is standing. That first person can walk away feeling like they didn’t matter to you, or at least, that they didn’t matter to you as much as the person you were looking for. We should all, including myself, be more mindful of that.
Now think on this point. Those are very small encounters with people we see regularly in services, and we have the ability to affect them in a positive or negative way, even in that brief moment. Can you imagine how many millions of interactions we would have with the people we live with, namely our spouses and children. Think of how those interactions, coupled with our attitudes at that time, can mold the minds of your family members to formulate opinions of you, as well as themselves.
In one of my graduate classes at Liberty University we were told of an anecdote where a group counselor at another university was running a support group for women who were returning to college after being away academically for some time and for various reasons. Of the nine women in the group, seven were married. The counselor asked the question of the group, “Who do you go to when you need encouragement?” Only two said they would go to their husbands. The question needs to be asked…WHY?
Go back to the interaction between you and your neighbor in the yard. Perhaps these two women had husbands who would stop what they were doing and engage their wives the way that the situation called for. For the other five women who would go to anyone else but their husband (most said a woman friend or mother would be sought out) perhaps they came to believe over time that their needs as a spouse weren’t as important as whatever the husband had going on at that time…and eventually they gave up.
What message is sent to your wife when she comes to you for anything and you stop what you’re doing to listen to her? The message would be along the lines of nonverbally telling her she matters to you because if she’s in need of anything, it’s important to you to help her in whatever way you can. Again, if your wife comes to you for support, encouragement, and emotional needs and you tell her the two of you can talk after the game is over…what does that imply? It implies that her needs are far less important than your need to watch the game, or whatever else it is you can’t put down until later.
It’s the same thing with our children. My oldest daughter was excited because she learned to read one year. So many times she brought a book in the car and asked if she can read to us. It’s not uncommon for her to want to read a story from her Bible on the way to church. I enjoy plugging the I-pod into the dashboard and listening to music while I drive. But knowing how to read was so exciting to her and her desire to share that enthusiasm with us by reading to us was so evident that it’s hard not to put my interest for music aside. So I tell her she can read the story. We live three minutes from the church. In that three minutes, by letting her read to us, she can come to believe that what’s important to her is important to us. But how many times of asking to read to us, and me saying no, would it take before she loses some of that enthusiasm. If I’m not willing to put aside my selfishness for three minutes when she’s six, what about when she’s older, and the things she comes to me with to talk about will take more than three minutes to resolve.
If you’re looking for this week’s Bible verse, it comes to us from Philippians 2:3-4: “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.“ Strife and vainglory have to do with acting selfishly and having an air of conceit about you. Again, I could be selfish and tell my daughter, “No, I want to listen to music.” In the same way, if you’re raking your leaves and can’t give your neighbor the time of day, it might be because you think yourself more important than your neighbor, exhibiting some signs of conceit and arrogance.
Now the second part of verse three tells us to esteem others better than ourselves in lowliness of mind. Simply put, we need to live for each other unselfishly (not for strife or vainglory) putting the concerns of others ahead of our own selves. Verse four can relate to the example I gave you about the women who couldn’t find encouragement from their husbands. To look not on our own things but on the things of others also implies that we need to take the concerns of others and make them our own, in the sense that we want to extend brotherly and sisterly kindness to others in their time of need…whatever that need may be.
Parents have younger children learning under them. Church staff members have babes in Christ learning under them. There will be many times when one who looks to you for answers will come, and you will need to be ready to put aside your own stuff to help them with theirs. Consider a new Christian looking for answers to spiritual questions that seem very basic to a seasoned Christian. If we answer in haste, impatience, and with a hint of irritation, that new Christian could begin to develop a hesitancy to ask questions in the future. They may begin believing their spiritual growth is a time-consuming nuisance to you. Eventually they may feel they are on their own to figure it all out. This will eventually lead to stunted Christian growth.
Now, one of the dangers has been that these hurt individuals will latch on to whomever begins to see them as worthy of their time. Unfortunately, these are the same people who are easy prey for cults, gangs, and the “wrong crowd.” The world says the person needs to learn how to grow and develop on their own, but according to Philippians 2:2-4, it’s fellow Christians who are to help develop OTHERS.
It’s not a stretch to understand that if you act toward your children in ways that make them feel they are a burden that take up your time and keep you from doing all the things you want to do before they came along, bad things are going to happen. If you’re ambivalent toward your children as they grow up, what happens when they get to be teens and the “bad apples” in high school begin showing them more attention, thereby forging the personality that was your job to nurture. They’ll begin experimenting with dangerous things to gain the acceptance and attention they crave, which could have serious consequences.
In the book that contained the anecdote I mentioned earlier, the author, Randy Fujishin, gives several ways to “enlarge others,” as he puts it. First, be expressive. You may harbor many positive feelings and emotions toward your spouse and/or children, but if they don’t get expressed…they won’t get recognized. When you do express your feelings, be sincere. Don’t make up stuff that you think your spouse or children want to hear. Then, express it in such a way that is specific to that person and not a general statement. “I love you” is a nice statement to tell someone but it’s so generic that it can fit anyone you love. “I love you because …” and fill in the blank with something that pertains only to that person.
Once you begin getting comfortable with expression, don’t over use it. That “I love you because…” statement can lose its emphasis if said and heard daily. It would begin to seem disingenuous and insincere over time. Also, along with being sincere and genuine, comes the altruistic part of “enlarging others.” The author doesn’t cite Philippians 2:3-4, but his plea to the reader is to “enlarge others unselfishly, without expecting anything in return.” Sometimes doing what we should for others will require sacrifices on our part. Sacrifices of time, pleasures, hobbies, and the like must be weighed against the potential for hindered growth in the person with whom God has placed in our path.
It’s not easy in today’s world to treat each person with whom we come in contact like they are the only person in the world that matters at that time. I’ll leave you with a pearl of wisdom I will never forget that was told to me by one of my professors, Dr. Gho. While I was in grad school, I was faced with the realization that I had so much to do, and so little time to do everything. I wore so many “hats” that it was overwhelming to list them all. I was a father, a husband, a son, a sibling, a church member, a softball team member, an employee, and a graduate student. There wasn’t enough time in the day to give to everybody and still get my readings and assignments done on schedule. She told me that God knows all that I have to do and He has put me in all those roles. But what she said next was so liberating. She said, “When you’re with your children, it’s time to be a dad. When you’re with your wife, it’s time to be a husband. On Sunday’s, it’s time to be a church member…” She showed me that I don’t serve in all those roles everyday and all day, but rather, if God put someone in my path (brother, employer, child) that I was to be what I was to be for that person 100%. It wasn’t supposed to matter if I was watching my girls while my wife was working and I had two papers to complete later that evening. At that time, I was supposed to be a dad 100%.
I’m not sure if my point is getting across, but it’s like this…if, as Christians, we are supposed to deal with others in ways that foster healthy growth, we need to acknowledge that God has decided to use us to help this particular person at this particular time. God is aware of everything else we have to do, but He still knows we have the time to spend to take care of this person. Therefore, you can be whatever that person needs you to be, 100%. In the overall scheme of things, a three-minute story from you six-year-old, or a five minute break from raking your leaves to talk to your neighbor is such a small thing that could have huge, potentially eternal rewards. Learn to spare a few minutes…