An exciting year has come to an end and another has begun. The year of 2015 was one of great blessing for myself and my family. We celebrated one year together in our new home, took my son to see the ocean for the first time, and welcomed to the world our daughter, Kathleen. For many around me though, 2015 wasn't the same story, as the year was filled with struggle, pain, disappointment and suffering. Throughout the year God has really opened my mind and heart to see those who are hurting, and believe me, there are people in our everyday lives who are experiencing great difficulties. As my heart and mind has been opened though, I've asked myself this question: how do I love people in the midst of their troubles? When someone's marriage is crumbling, or their spouse betrays them, or someone contemplates suicide, how am I to love them? As I've wrestled with this question, something I learned from my Real Life Discipleship training at OCC has come to mind. More importantly though, what I learned was modeled first by Jesus throughout His ministry. To love people all the time, specifically in times of trouble, I need to love with my head, heart and mind.
LOVING WITH MY HEAD
Jesus loved people this way. The woman at the well (John 4:1-42) may be a great example of this, in that He took the time to ask her questions, to get to know her a little and then shared truths with her. He didn't have to ask questions since He already knew the answers, but we don't see Jesus making assumptions about her life. He learned about her heart and her story. Of course, Jesus did this in all His relationship. He took time to get to know people and learn about the condition of their heart. In applying this, I should take the time to learn a person's story and not immediately make assumptions about their condition. To love someone requires me to know them, to invest time in learning about them and their situations and take the time to ask questions, doing my best to understand their struggles. Depression, anxiety and brokenness are not simple issues to understand, and require us to take time to learn about a person.
LOVING WITH MY HEART
It's one thing to learn about someone's problem, but it's another thing to care. I don't know about you, but in a world of constant media and news it's easy to dismiss problems and say people created their own messes; yet as true as this may be, it doesn't represent all people who are in times of trouble. In a broken world, pain and suffering are likely to reach all of us at some point. Let's not allow the media to desensitize us to the point we feel no empathy for people. The greatest example of this is the sacrifice Jesus made. He saw our brokenness, our hurt and felt the weight of the broken world, and it's recorded in the story of Lazarus that He wept. I find it hard to imagine this was the only time Jesus cried. He had empathy for us, He felt what we felt and knew He could be the solution. Yes He knew us, but ultimately He loved us and left heaven to save us. I want to be a person that genuinely cares for others, seeing their needs and feeling in my heart the desire to help.
LOVING WITH MY HANDS
Knowing about someone’s struggles and feeling their pain is a great start, but loving with our hands puts actions to our feelings. Jesus did this extremely well throughout His ministry, culminating with His death on the cross, forgiving us of our sins. Throughout His ministry though, Jesus healed, provided food, offered encouragement and restored life. While I don't have the power to heal depression, restore a marriage or stop suffering, I can still do small things. Providing a hug, buying a gift card, taking someone a meal or praying for them are all tangible ways love can be expressed. Although these acts of love may seem small and insignificant, especially compared to the acts of Jesus and the disciples, they don't go unnoticed and can go a long way in helping someone.
So as 2016 unfolds, my plan is to love people intently. I'm going to listen to people, opening my eyes and heart to learn and understand the problems people are dealing with. I want to be with them as they struggle, trying to feel with them and care for their situation. I don't want to simply be someone who looks casually upon suffering. I also want to be action oriented, serving people and loving them in simple but powerful ways. I encourage you to join me in this mission, as it won't be easy. My prayer for us all is we learn to love more intently in 2016. Lastly, as Paul points out in Romans 13:8-10, "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continual debt to love...love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law." May we do our best to never stop loving others.