We have had a lot of rain here lately, but last week we had one bright, sunny afternoon. I decided it was the perfect afternoon to go for a walk. I ushered Macy, our Chocolate Lab, into the car, and off we went. Why the car? Because I now drive to where I can walk, because of two attack dogs that reside between me and my walking area. Just thinking about walking past the house where they reside fills with me fear. (You can read about this incident in my post Obstacles.)
I didn’t actually realize just how much fear until last week when I took that walk. I was enjoying the beautiful day when suddenly, from out of nowhere, I heard a dog bark menacingly as it rushed towards me. My heart started pounding, my hand gripped the leash tighter, and I could feel my whole body tense, as if preparing for an attack. I glanced towards where I heard the sound and saw that not only was it a rather smallish dog, but it was also enclosed in a fence, which meant that this little barking fiend was no threat to me or to my dog.
Now, I have never, ever been afraid of dogs before. Not like that. Sure, I never liked the mean, snarling ones (who does?) but I love dogs. It is frustrating to me that now I am filled with fear if I hear one on my walk.
My personal experience has led me to respond and react differently than I used to.
Personal experience has a way of doing that to us. I remember when this thought first hit me and changed how I viewed people.
It was Christmas Day many years ago and it was snowing. Unlike most of you, we never wanted white Christmases around here because that would mean Christmas without Daddy. We plow snow and people still want it to be removed, even if it is a holiday. It also meant a day of stress and frustration for me, as I have to take the phone calls.
I can still vividly remember one phone call from that day long ago. It was an elderly lady, recently widowed, who had no children. She was normally a very nice lady, but on this particular day she started screaming at me, asking why we hadn’t been to her house yet. I assured her that everyone was out working hard and that they just hadn’t gotten there yet, but that didn’t seem to make a difference. She obviously needed to yell at someone and that someone was going to be me. I was so hurt and angered by that unreasonable call. But after I hung up and gave it some thought, God impressed upon my heart just how lonely and miserable she must be–especially on Christmas. How would I be if I was spending my first Christmas alone without my best friend and didn’t even have any children or grandchildren to ease the pain? Would I be tempted to lash out at someone, too?
I knew the answer was probably yes.
While this is not one of my favorite Christmas memories, it changed forever how I view people. I realized that people always do what they do for a reason.
This doesn’t change how we view sin, but it should change how we feel about the sinner–
That prostitute on the street used to be a little girl that was neglected and abused by her mother.
The gay man who lives next door was once a bright and hopeful little boy who was sexually abused by a neighbor.
The grumpy old man has had a lifetime of broken dreams and disappointments.
The lady who was absolutely unreasonable on the phone a minute ago just found out yesterday that her daughter has cancer.
Thinking through why people might do what they do fills me with compassion. What if I had grown up neglected and abused? Wouldn’t it be just as possible that it could be me walking the street? What if my life was filled with broken dreams and disappointments and I didn’t have hope in Jesus Christ, couldn’t I just as easily be labeled the grumpy one?
But for the grace of God, go I.
God’s grace changes everything. It fixes the broken. It heals the heart. It fills us with peace and joy despite the most tragic of circumstances. But most of the world does not know this.
Understanding that people are much deeper than what we see externally should not only fill us with compassion but also drive us to share the Gospel. We should never let unfounded, sinful arrogance keep us from loving others. We should never let an unsavory profession or a little grumpiness deter us from telling someone about Jesus. These people, underneath all of that gruff and bravado, are broken and in need of a Savior.
Of course, some don’t want to hear it. And from those, we walk away (Matthew 7:6). If they are hard-hearted and rebellious, we shouldn’t waste our time. But, let’s be honest, most of us never even get that far. We don’t find out if they are lost and searching because we are too scared or too arrogant to talk to them.
Oh, may our hearts be filled with compassion towards the broken and unloving. There is a reason they are doing what they are doing. And it is quite likely, that given a similar life experience and without the light of Christ in your life, that you may be just like them. Thank the Lord for his loving-kindness in your life and reach out with the Good News that there is salvation available to all through Jesus Christ!