Shabat Thoughts - An Open Heart Exam
We had a visitor the other day. He's gruff and bristly at times and he's hurt our feelings on more than one occasion. He makes my introverted ways look positively social butterfly-ish. He's refused many an invitation to stop by and made it plain he prefers to have no visitors. He's also shown up to take care of an emergency repair or three and refused a penny or so much as a soda for his time. I know him to be tender-hearted with animals and he's had quite an assortment of strays who were loved and cared for. He is often harsh in his assessment of humans. He plays well with children but anyone over 7 is likely to discover he's stern almost to the extreme. He's incredibly skilled with his hands and believes that his work reveals his integrity. He often does kindnesses for others simply because he has the skills or the tools and materials to do them and he gets almost angry if you thank him. He never tells what he's done for others but word gets around. He has struggles. Don't we all? He is my brother and I love him.
When we were children we were very close, as adults we've not been. Years have sometimes passed without a word between us, neither good or bad. At times it feels as though what we have is a very distant acquaintanceship, but now and then we have these moments, a meeting of eyes, a laugh over something that only we two find funny, a conversation that reveals our hearts and kinship. So he stopped by the other day, bringing in our mail, chatting about a family matter we're involved in, sharing some of his current concerns...Just talk, you know? But the subject turned to spiritual matters and something I'd been struggling with all day long came up. It was the subject of judging others.
We have a friend who is struggling...He's hurting, he's hurting others. He'd said "Don't judge me!" We've walked in his shoes, on that same treacherous path he's on. We're concerned, we hurt seeing his hurt, we fear where he's headed, we ache to help him find his way to a smoother path, to see him turn back. We're in prayer for him, careful to listen to him talk. Disappointed that he's failed, suffering for his suffering, more experienced than he is about what he's going through.
I'd thought on this all morning long, and into the afternoon as I worked. My sin is no better than anyone else's sin. There are no degrees of better/worse sin. Sin is sin. Period. Sin hurts. It wounds. If left untreated, it is like gangrene, eating away at the good things and poisoning a life. In conversations we've had lately, we've discussed some of the sinners of the world. We wrestled with how we should treat people, especially those we don't know. Do we ignore them? Shun them? Do we shelter ourselves from them? In short, how do we judge them?
In the Bible Jesus treated the sinful with common courtesy and compassion. He didn't applaud their sin, he didn't pat them on the head and say it was all right to sin, he didn't deny it's existence. He called sin by it's name and then he offered the gift of loving and kindness to the sinner. He held out His hand and said "This is the Way." As Christians we are called to be like Jesus. It's hard. It's very hard. I don't think I've even begun to be Christlike but I long to be.
So that's where my mind had been and then my brother revealed a conversation from his past with someone he knew. Someone who was also a Christian, who had decided that he needed to point out my brother's faults in a condemning way. Well... We all know that someone don't we? Someone who has determined that you aren't the Christian they are and then proceeds to be certain you know it? The sort who tell you why they are better than you are? How their sin is different and not as bad as yours?
And this is where my brother revealed something that left us in tears, and I mean that truly. He had been judged and found wanting and in reply he turned to the man and said, "I have faults. I sin. I know more about my shortcomings than you ever will. But I know God. I've seen His works in my life, I've watched as He held out his hand and carried me along in places you know nothing about. But I also know this about me: If I live to see the days we're told will come, when two men are on the rooftop and one is taken away and one left behind...If I live to see that day, and God looks at me and says "Come..." and calls me by name, if the fellow next to me has never known God, I'll want to ask, "Lord, can't You take him instead? Can't You let him come to know You the way I have?"
That's where my heart crumbled within me. Does our friend really know God? Does he have a relationship with Him? Would I be willing to give my place for the sake of allowing him to see God's love? Am I so intent upon my own reward at the end that I've forgotten others may not know Him? Have I, really, been non-judgmental or has my personal disappointment in him become a stumbling block? Isn't that judgement of a sort? And hadn't I judged my brother and found him lacking, simply because his temperament is different than mine?
That is what I needed this day. A spiritual pop quiz, an open heart exam, where I looked long at the hardened places in my own heart. I pray, oh how I pray!, that God will remind me of this often!