On Sundays, my family participates in a worship service at our community’s nursing home. On most Sunday’s we shake hands, hug necks, sing for the residents and listen to a message from the Word. On one particular Sunday morning, I received so much more.
As I was preparing for the service, an older lady wheeled herself towards me by carefully walking her feet in front of her chair. As I approached her with my best Sunday morning “glad to see ya” attitude she grabbed my arm, pulled it to her face and slowly pet me. She pulled me down close to her face and asked, “Is your name Scott?”
“No ma’am, my name is Greg. That’s Scott over there,” I replied.
She continued, “This morning I let the cows and the dogs out into the pasture and they are trampling everything down in the field.”
Realizing her consciousness was a reality from years past, I mumbled faux words of agreement and encouragement. I was playing along to enhance her reality but beginning to pull away when she grabbed my arm again and said, “Is your name Robert?”
“No ma’am, my name is Greg.”
“Are you my son?”
“No ma’am,” I gulped, realizing engaging in further deception would likely lead to hurt. She continued with a new story about setting a match to the pasture and burning all of the trash, I didn’t catch the details being distracted by the mission of extracting myself from the situation saying something like “Ok, I understand, have a good day” while patting her gently on the back.
As I was walking away she called to me, cupping her hands around her mouth and calling in a loud whisper that came out like a fained yell “Hey, I love you.”
In a moment, my heart was broken.
Throughout the service, I fixed my eyes on the precious sister and thought:
- Even when everything else is failing, Love is still present.
- My love had been superficial, based on my comfort and reality – not on hers.
Peter wrote about the love Christ intended for believers, “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart” I Peter 1:22 (TNIV). The message is clear, the blood of Christ and obedient faith purifies Christians in order to love each other so deeply, and it never leaves regardless of the condition.
Later in his letter Peter continues, “… all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.” I Peter 3:8 (TNIV). Like he was writing these words directly to me I know my love in those moments was neither empathetic (like-minded), sympathetic, compassionate, or humble. Rather it was based on MY feelings, MY reality, and compassion for MY comfort – not humble at all. I suspect most Christians struggle to develop the kind of love Christ commanded when he answered the teacher of the law who asked him about the most important commandment:
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31 (TNIV)
Love God (check), love myself (check), and love others (well…). Even though her mind was tricking her consciousness, the elder sister taught me two valuable lessons:
- Love deeply to the very end
- Love others as they are, not as I am