“How can we seek a compassion that can stand in awe of what ‘people’ have to carry, rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it?”
It was a Sunday morning, and I was, as is typical of most Sunday mornings, harried and rushed. By the time I wrestled open the heavy doors of the church, emotionally and physically spent from the morning’s demands, I wanted nothing more than a quiet corner in which to sit and cry. As I made my way down the center aisle, I noticed her heading my way. Hopeful for an encouraging word and a compassionate ear from an older woman who I begged would understand my heart; I was taken aback by the furrow in her brow and the downturned pout on your lips. “Get that out of here!” she spat as she pointed at the cup of coffee in my hand. And without another word, she turned quickly on her heels in a superior huff.
My hands began to shake, and I turned in defeated retreat to find the nearest restroom. I slumped against the wall of a corner stall, a huddled mess on the cold tile of the bathroom floor, wearing my exhaustion and the weight of her words like an old winter coat slung across my shoulders. There was a circle of belonging, and though I could feel its warmth, it was beyond my reach.
When church becomes little more than a small club for the already convinced, when our methodology rests on power, and rules, and group identity, we separate ourselves from the very One we profess to serve. When a church becomes a dusty museum to the past, the likelihood of reaching generations to come diminishes. And when our organizations are heavily rooted in complex bureaucracy, driven by the evidence of our efficacy, courageous change becomes an impossible dream and we are blinded to the outcast and the marginalized, even those within our reach clinging tightly to a lukewarm cup of coffee.
Research indicates that people have an overwhelming need to feel included, heard and valued. When we are self- focused, on perceived needs and organizational preferences, it should be no surprise that those who fall outside of the circle of belonging, do not feel welcomed or valued. The mistakes that we will most profoundly regret are the ones that obscure the gospel and hurt the people under our influence by saying in effect, “You do not belong.”
Different is terrifying and strange, and beautiful. But it is something that not everyone knows how to love. And though most of us prefer a fairy-tale fashioned of pixie dust and enchanted forests, life, in reality, is forged out of dust and grime. Our tendency to judge the manner with which a human being carries defeat, suffering and loss stands boldly in the way of Christ-like compassion which begs us to step outside of the frame to take in, with wonder, the whole picture, the whole person. To limit a human being by what is perceived is to limit the growth and possibility that God has in store for a soul with a mission to fill. I am living, breathing proof that the hard things in life do not need to defeat or define, something that seems so difficult for bystanders to behold.
I am vulnerable, but I am not fragile, even on my worst days. And as I sat on the cold tile floor on that Sunday morning, God reminded me that vulnerable is brave. That morning, it was about letting my heart show in my face. There is not, as a matter of fact, a single act of courage that does not somehow involve vulnerability.
Judgment is a fool and nothing is ever as simple as it seems. At the edge of perception lies the opportunity to invite another being, errant coffee cup and all, out of the cold into the warmth of belonging. And in doing so, we become God’s well-tuned instruments of peace, His gift to one another, each of us a miracle according to his strange and wonderful plan.