Mark 10:21--'Jesus, looking at him, loved him.'
He knew all that was in that heart. He saw clearly the pride and complacency, the underlying streak of materialism, even as He saw the urge to live a pure and blameless life, the vague but urgent desire to know God.
Christ's love for the eager young ruler has always been what struck me most about this one incident in His life, as recorded in the book of Mark. Even at the very moment when the young ruler seemed to have failed the test, so to speak--at the very point he clearly demonstrated that his heart was given to idols.
Jesus did not push him to make a decision, guilt-trip or pressurise him. Jesus did not condemn him or fling up his hands in dramatic despair. He knew that this was much more than the physical, external act of getting him to sell all he had and give to the poor, even of following Him. This was a battle of the heart first and foremost, a heart which needed to be won and transformed and given willingly through love, not about impressive charity stunts and dramatic life turnarounds.
This love, I believe, was what enabled the young ruler to understand, and more importantly, accept when Jesus told him--gently--but poignantly, probingly--'One thing still you lack...'
John Freeman's wise words brought this part of the Bible to my mind:
When we reduce people to their sin or rebellion, we often react out of a deep motivation to set things right because our own sensibilities are affected.
If, like Jesus, we stop focusing on the sin in other people's lives which we want to see changed, rather than how as a person, as a soul, they need Christ, our response to them, no matter how well intentioned, will not end up being helpful. Judgy. Pushy. Condescending. Those adjectives are ones which Christians should pray that by God's grace they manage to avoid. If, like Jesus, we learn to love them, not because they fit our idea of what they should be like, or make the choices we think they should, even and especially when they don't, our attempt to help them and to share truth with them will not be pushed away or dismissed, even when they don't agree.
How do we love them?
Resisting the urge to add, 'Let me count the ways'--John Freeman also noted that In loving by listening, we learn much more about people and discover why they have sought after other gods.
Loving by listening is one of the simplest, yet most underestimated ways of showing love to someone, in our culture today where we're programmed to be visual, to be instant, to not waste a second, and most of all to proclaim and focus on our own opinions and feelings--as discussed here.
Too often, I make the same mistake. Unlike Christ, there are times when I look at someone and see only the sin in their life or the obstacle keeping them from grace, and forget to love them. I forget that as an imitator of Christ--who loved us first before He died for us--love comes first.
Sometimes, that means I need to listen patiently, humbly, to things I don't agree with, or things I think I already understand. Sometimes that means I need to just listen instead of thinking I have to always give advice or provide a different view. When we know their stories, when we understand what is important to them and what they believe can make them whole, and why, we see them with the same grace-filled love that looked out of Christ's eyes when He spoke to that young ruler.
It's not necessary to always be justified.
We have an innate sense of justice--at least, when it comes to ourselves. In my interactions with children I've noticed that injustice strikes one of the deepest chords of emotion in children, even the very young ones. Emotions are at their most transparent and raw state when expressed by children. I was startled to see how strong the sense of injustice could be, in even a three year old. He glowered at one side like a little thundercloud, watching the other children silently with steadily reddening eyelids. Finally, when no one noticed him--ah, that swelling unhappiness when our hurt goes unnoticed by everyone else!--he confronted me in a voice gone shrill and curly with pent-up aggrievement, demanding justice.
From this, and other experiences, I learnt another important lesson on working with children and developing relationships with them. Justice is very important. We all know--and dislike--that kid who cheats at games, pinches people on the sly, and pushes others out of the way--then claim they 'didn't do anything.' It's true that children take quickly and naturally to deceit and unfairness once they are allowed to see their own self-interest as more important than right or wrong. But just as true is the fact that every child has a deep innate sense of justice. Even the mean and sneaky ones, who interestingly enough are often the loudest to complain of 'not fair!' if someone else pushes them out of the way. Protecting and acknowledging this sense of justice in concrete and consistent ways sometimes does more to earn you their respect than presents or pep talks. If kids know that they can be sure of your attention and action whenever they have experienced injustice--and just as importantly, when they have perpetrated injustice--they will respect you. If they see you turn a blind eye to little inconvenient incidents, or brush them off, you are telling them that they can get away with things if they do it right; and that they can't depend on you for help if they need it. Children, who of all people should be the most conscious of how helpless and dependent they are, are naturally drawn to someone they feel they can trust to protect them when they are wronged, even if that also means someone who will punish them when they have wronged others.
Unfortunately this sense of justice for ourselves isn't always conducive for resolving quarrels. Just as the concept of justice isn't always as straight forward 'in the adult world.'
Sometimes peace may be more important than immediate or complete justice. Sometimes--more significantly--mercy and forgiveness have to resolve what justice only begins, what justice could only add more hurt and destruction to. There is a place for mercy and forgiveness, as well as justice, in the child's world as well as the adult's world; if either are ignored, there are horrible consequences.
Maybe that means you have to sit the red-eyed baby down and explain that though it wasn't fair, things like that unfortunately do happen; and that's why they shouldn't do similar things to others. It doesn't mean, however, that you pretend nothing happened, or brush it off--because they have been hurt, and they are going to hurt more if you don't address it, or don't acknowledge it.
Similarly, when we quarrel--what a embarrassing, immature word; but who hasn't?--it's not always necessary to justify ourselves. I have learnt that, the hard way, by causing even greater misunderstanding and pain when I insisted on showing how more right I was than the other person thought. Perhaps we need to swallow our pride and simply settle for 'I'm sorry you misunderstood me', and focus more on 'I'm sorry I hurt you.' Ken Sande had a very good reminder in The Peacemaker that effective apologies should not include 'but's: 'I'm sorry I said that but you started it' not only reveals pride and unlovingness, but also clearly isn't going to help with reconciliation. There is a place for justification, of course; but the problem is that when the context is conflict and argument, the thin line between justification and proving the other person wrong because you were right, also known as winning the fight, gets really, really hard to define. Our hearts are deceptive and they're not good at helping us see when our motivations are not purely justice, but have self-righteousness or pride stirred in, when they're stewing over the fire of conflict. And it quickly turns bitter, and burns us when we try, suddenly aghast when we realize the consequences, to stop.
After all, God Himself showed us mercy instead of justice.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are