The other day, while in the airport, I couldn’t help but notice a Mama with her two kids in tow. She was a perfect reflection of me 10 years earlier. She looked so tired – bone tired. She held her fussy toddler daughter tightly against her hip and grasped her son with her free hand as he continually cried, “Time to go! Time to Go!” It was taking everything in her to just hold it together when suddenly, her little girl threw up all over her. She. was. done.
Tears rolled down her cheeks as she grabbed a blanket from her backpack to wipe herself off. As soon as she did, her son realized he was free and ran down the concourse away from her safety. At that moment, myself and two other moms jumped to our feet to help. I corralled her son after he used a few of his superhero moves to dodge me. Another mom brought several damp paper towels to help her clean up. The last mom bought a T-shirt at one of the nearby stores so the mama didn’t have to fly in a plane covered in baby puke.
As she went to get cleaned up, the other two moms and I opened her backpack looking for a diaper for her little girl. We found a new diaper a few other items too: old crumbled snacks, a rotten banana, a bottle that hadn’t been cleaned for far too long and even a poopy diaper or two. None of us felt a hint of judgment though. We were all moms and we understood the crazy that life brings and how we all let things slip here and there. Quickly, we threw out the bad, refilled her bag with fresh treats, changed her toddler into clean clothes, and by the time she was back we were all enjoying playing with her son.
As she gathered her kids to board her plane, she looked back over her shoulder and said, “I know I can make it now. Thank you!” We all waved as she and her little ones disappeared around the corner.
Later that night, I had a completely different experience.
Once settled in my seat, I cringed when a young man came and sat next to me on the plane. He had dreadlocks all the way down his back and smelled so strongly of pot, I couldn’t help but wonder if I might get a little high sitting next to him. As soon as possible, he started ordering drink after drink and even managed to spill one all over me. When the flight attendant cut him off, without explanation, he took his shoes off, flung them at my feet and then crossed his leg with his very…smelly…foot… and rested it on me. Without ever speaking a word with him, an internal dialogue started something like this.
“This guy is a total idiot!!!”
Then, a very clear thought came to mind. You’re such a hypocrite. You talk about God’s love, and write about compassion and mercy yet, the moment someone is outwardly offensive, you become pious, arrogant and completely unloving.
I didn’t like myself very much in that moment to say the least. Big sigh. Convicted, I took a deep breath, reached out my hand, smiled and said,
“Hi, I believe your foot and I have already met…but I thought it would be nice if we did. I’m Nancy.”
He smiled a huge gregarious smile and then apologized for his foot resting on me. He then explained when he was a teenager, his leg was fractured in multiple places after a car accident. Though he went through years of rehabbing it, it still gives him a great deal of pain. He then pulled up his pant leg exposing heavy, deep and jagged scars that line his leg from his ankle to his knee. Wistfully, he looked in the distance and said slowly, “There is never one minute of the day where I am totally pain-free.”
This wasn’t just a pothead next to me. He was a person, with a name and with painful life experiences that shaped him into the rough around the edges, pot smoking, persona that was sitting next to me. He needed as much love and support as the Mama in the airport did. I just didn’t see it because I was so bothered by his appearance and behavior.
Of course I can justify my reaction — right? I mean the guy was a total…. wait a second… what does the bible tell me??
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
8 No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God.
Now, the man in the airplane was clearly not my enemy in the strict sense of the word however, he was difficult. There were uncomfortable behaviors (and smells) that came with him. He didn’t naturally respect my space, and generally didn’t care whether he offended me. On the other hand, the Mama at the airport, was meek and humble, thankful and gracious. She was incredibly easy to help.
Still, if I am a follower of Christ – and indeed I am – it is my job to love well, and respond in compassion regardless of how the person standing (or sitting) with me is acting.
I believe it is for a very simple reason. When we respond in authentic humility, mercy, grace and compassion, we better reflect the heart God. It’s that simple. And, in this world that is so filled with anger, brutality, rejection and fear, people need to tangibly see and experience His heart of love, every single day.
May we all learn how to reflect the beauty of his love more and more!
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