It is amazing how one small act of love can light up the darkest of times. I was thinking the other day about the late November several years back when my grandfather passed away. The extended family was all in town for the funeral, and everybody had ended up back at my Grandma’s house. Newly widowed, Grandma seemed at a loss. She had been the primary caregiver for her ill husband for years, and was walking around in a daze. I remember driving towards her house with my wife and daughter when a simple thought crossed my mind.
Everyone will be together. We should decorate a Christmas tree.
I am not sure why I thought about it, but I did know that Grandma had no Christmas tree. So we pulled over at Walgreens and picked up a cheap four foot tree, along with decorations. When we entered Grandma’s house it was quiet. Patience and I explained that we picked up a tree and thought it might be nice if we decorated it for Grandma. The family agreed it would be a fun way to spend our time together, and maybe help lift our hurting hearts. And so we spread the artificial branches, placed the feeble tree on the table near the front window, and decorated it with the best decorations fifteen bucks could buy.
It probably didn’t take us thirty minutes, but it was exactly what we all needed. The little tree shone brightly in the darkness of our loss, and reminded us of the love we had for each other and our hope for the future. It turned a potentially dismal evening into a cheerful time together.
I mentioned in my last blog that embracing personal pain was not a natural thing for one to do. But embracing others pain may actually seem even more unnatural. Why would we purposefully involve ourselves with the troubles of others? There is no easy answer, but I believe there is a richer more meaningful life that comes from walking into someone else’s storm. I believe when we choose to fight with those who are fighting, cry with those who are crying, and sit in silence with those who are broken, we are actually engaging in a beautiful selfless story, one that reflects a God who did the same for us.
I recall the Sunday school story that you may have heard many times before; the story of the Good Samaritan. In the parable, a man is robbed, beaten to a pulp, and left for dead on the side of the road. A priest sees the man and passes by. A highly religious man walks right by as well. Then a Samaritan man sees him and has pity for him. So he stops, bandages the guy up, puts him on his donkey, and gets him a place to stay until he is well.
Jesus, who was telling the story, was explaining to a religious man that every person is our neighbor, and we should all be compelled to willingly take on the pain of a total stranger, if need be. We find at the heart of an abundant life is this concept of helping others and bearing one another’s burdens.
My parents have some lifelong friends who have been battling sickness for the past few years. Though they are only in their fifties, this couple has had to make drastic life changes recently because of their health. Just the other week their group of friends surprised the couple by picking them up and inviting them over for a lunch together. It was nothing elaborate or over the top; just a small assembly of long time friends coming together to love on two of their own, who have been in such a dark place.
My mom sent me a picture of them all afterward and a text that read, “We love them and have been friends for over thirty years. He told us he would hurt for three days for getting out, but it would be worth it for the chicken and dumplings and fried okra.”
As good as the food was, I know that the company was even better. For a short while the two of them were able to laugh and converse just like they have been doing for years. For a moment the unbearable burden of cancer and disease and loneliness was lifted because a group of friends climbed under the weight of the crushing stone and lifted it together for a moment in time. And though it meant the world to them, it also deeply impacted everyone else involved. Because when you embrace the pain of another, you share in the relief it brings. You relish in the joy it creates; in the hope that it stirs up.
We are all surrounded by the hurting and the broken. I could write a long list right now of all the people I know dealing with death, disease, divorce, or other tragedies. These are our neighbors, whether they are family, friends, coworkers, or strangers. Yet so many times we ignore their cries. We turn a blind eye to their needs. We see them on the side of the road and quickly cross over and away, so we do not have to deal with them. In doing so we throw away the opportunity to be a light in their darkness. We forfeit the chance to lift the weight of the crushing pain.
I am not trying to guilt you into giving a wad of cash to every homeless person you encounter, or to fill your schedule with every single opportunity that comes your way. We cannot be all things to all people. But I whole-heartedly believe we can be something to all the people we encounter. Whether it be a kind word to the cashier in line at the grocery store, a bigger tip for the waiter who really didn’t deserve it, or a lunch for a coworker who is struggling through tough times, there is always something we could do. Open your eyes to the needs of those around you, and your heart to the possibility of how you could help them. Don’t cross the road next time you see someone hurting.
I have to confess something… I am the worst at this. I have to deliberately try to help people, because my instinct is to turn away and forget about it. Thankfully I am married to a woman who has a heart three times the size of mine. She has taught me over the years the importance of caring for others, even when they don’t warrant or deserve it. I am getting better at this, but it is a daily struggle.
Here’s the terrible proof at how bad I am with this. One evening after work a friend and I met downtown to go hand out some food to the homeless. (Sounds noble, but wait before you get impressed) So we got out of the car and made our way through Miller Park when we spotted a person on the ground. No lie, there was a person lying face down on the concrete. We both kind of looked at each other in confusion.
“What is going on?” my friend asked.
“Who knows,” I replied, “They're probably just passed out or sleeping or something.”
I am ashamed to say this, but we kept walking. We passed a person on the ground so we could go help others by handing out sandwiches. (Can you say Hypocrite?) Well, we were in Subway when we saw the flashing red lights show up just outside the window. My heart dropped. We both went to the window in horror. Across the street was an ambulance loading up the person off of the concrete. My friend and I looked at one another in utter disbelief.
I wish I could tell you that story is fictional. That it is just a modern day telling of the Good Samaritan. Unfortunately, it is true. It was a very shameful and convicting event that showed me I am the priest who passed by the beaten man. I am the religious guy who never stopped to help. I am a bad Samaritan
I think sometimes I just get so caught up in my own life and my own problems that I forget about the lives and problems of those around me. It is time to become aware, and take action. I want to start looking for a need and instead of skirting away, move towards it with compassion. I know it doesn't have to be a huge deal... it honestly could be as simple as a buying a little Christmas tree for your widowed Grandma, or making lunch for you friends fighting illness, or stopping to help a person lying on a sidewalk. Whatever the case may be, I am certain that a little light can brighten up the darkest of places.