Friday, May 29, 2009
How to change the world
A grain of sand is tiny and insignificant. If you have a few grains in your shoe, you might form a blister. If you inject sand into an oyster, you’ll harvest a pearl. If you bite into your fire-grilled, condiment-topped hot dog at the beach, you’ll grind sand between your teeth. When swimming in Lake Powell (Arizona-Utah border), you can rub the fine sand off the red sandstone canyon walls ad infinitum and fill the lake – and your swimsuit! – with more colorful sediment.
When walking in soft, dry sand, the going is laborious. When you try to sleep on it, it’s nearly impossible to get comfortable. After all, each grain of sand is a microscopic rock, broken away from its parent stone and carried by wind or water. Our planet is made of rock, and its grains are everywhere, innumerable.
Love is like that. Each kind word or compliment, each supportive act, each accommodation made for another – seems to stand alone. But over time and with enough repetition and replication, those grains of sand accumulate. Together, they’re immeasurable and infinitely vast.
It’s been said that for each criticism, insult, act of disrespect or disregard, it takes a minimum of four praises to counteract the negativity – just to return to the baseline. To make a comeback and truly succeed, the ratio is much higher, in the double digits. Which do you find more motivational for good deeds: an accusation of your faults, major and minor, and a recital of past behavior; or the pointing out of your victory, your handling of a sticky situation, your kindness noted, or even that someone awarded you the Best-Person-of-Their-Day hug?
After a drought, all it takes is a short rain shower to send plants rocketing skyward, bursting into bloom – and it takes only a bit of searing heat to wilt and destroy. Similarly, in a world where sterility, isolation, judgment and criticism may too often be the norm, what is desperately needed is acceptance, a warm touch, caring words, loyalty, and fidelity. We’re starving for support, encouragement, trust, and the acceptance of a loving family.
The ministry where I work has for years conducted an intercessory prayer ministry. Many people write or call, asking for prayer for their health and their family relationships. A consistent prayer request over the weeks and months is for their adult children to stop smoking and drinking, to attend church services regularly, to come back to a walk with God. “Pray that my son will come back to church.”
A pastor-friend preached a sermon about this issue last year, in a church full of retirees. From my pew, I waited for a gasp of dismay when he advised that they should stop praying for the child to return to church, and just love and accept the child in every way, to praise and not criticize, to not express disapproval of smoking or drinking or disregard of tradition and standards – but just to relax the relationship, enjoy the moments together, appreciate, communicate, and above all, love-love-love. To my amazement, no one stiffened or resisted, no one walked out in disgust. They “amen-ed” the sermon and shed tears.
The mostly-elderly and conservative congregation agreed that they should have the attitude of the Prodigal Father, who ran out to meet the wayward son not with a lecture and probation, but with an embrace, a kiss, and most importantly, the gift of full restoration to intimate relationship. (That was a shockingly vulnerable display of love for the undeserving, don’t you think?) It's not about attending a church service — it's about the relationship with each other, and with Abba Father that's important.
The apostle Paul was quite the judgmental prosecutor in his younger days, but listen to his warmth, acceptance, enthusiasm, and advice to attract with honey, not vinegar: “Your task is to single-mindedly serve Christ. Do that and you'll kill two birds with one stone: pleasing the God above you and proving your worth to the people around you. So let's agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other. Help others with encouraging words; don't drag them down by finding fault. You're certainly not going to permit an argument over what is served or not served at supper to wreck God's work among you, are you? … So be sensitive and courteous to the others ... Don't eat or say or do things that might interfere with the free exchange of love.” Romans 14:18-20 MSG
About 15 months ago, a musician in my church ensemble died suddenly. We had played together at least twice a month for about five years. But I didn’t know him at all. We didn’t associate outside of rehearsal and the church service. It’s hard to mourn someone I didn’t know well, but I did learn that I should affirm and compliment and make an effort to be less insular and more friendly in the living years. And do you know, the “effort” seems less like work all the time! It’s fun to lift the day for a tired woman you’ll never see again by telling her that her hairstyle is lovely, or tell a young father what a cute boy he’s carrying through Home Depot. I remember how charged up I was when a little girl shouted to me across the Target parking lot: “I like your red dress! And your shoes!”
Maybe this is the way to change the world: one smile or happy heartbeat at a time. One lift of the eyebrow, one consoling touch on the elbow, one “Well done!”, one verbal kiss on the cheek, one compliment, one quick phone call or e-mail, one joke at the water cooler, one decision to swallow the critical word and instead forgive, one trial balloon of trust, one prayer to lift up your prodigal child, however “old” he or she may be.
Each tiny grain of love will bond with every other, and take on the form of the Body of Christ, all fitted and joined together under the Savior. “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.” 1 Corinthians 12:27 NLT.
“If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it, but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing. Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance." 1 Corinthians 13:1-7 NLT.
Love, even one molecule at a time, will make a difference. It will change the world.
Posted by Christy K Robinson