It was one of those days. You know the kind I mean—the kind of day where nearly everything that could go wrong did go wrong.
As the sun slipped below the horizon, I drove down the road, coaxing my weary head to focus. Educational questions, my kids’ spiritual needs, their inability to stay well this season, and my perceived failings as a mom, all bounced around in my head at intervals. I tried not to think about the pile of to-do’s waiting for me at home.
By the time I got to my friend’s house, I felt like I had spent the entire day running.
I turned off the car and sat still for a moment wondering why I just couldn’t seem to get life right. Every time I got into a routine or started making progress, someone or something would come along like a tornado, leveling my carefully constructed efforts. I raked my fingers through my hair, thinking, “I feel like a mess. Why, oh why, am I so awful at this thing called adulthood… and parenting… and everything? Everyone around me has it together. What’s wrong with me?”
I took a steadying breath, tried fruitlessly to smooth my frazzled hair, and walked to the front door.
As usual, the Lord set me straight before the night was over.
The ladies with whom I spent the evening ended their time with prayer. Each woman shared a concern or a need and their request was written down and prayed over. As I listened to these sweet mothers and grandmothers share their requests, I heard the pain, concern, and often weariness in their voices. Each person in that room had their own mountain to face, and all needed the steadfast love of the Lord to strengthen them for what lay ahead.
I wasn’t the only person having “one of those days.”
How often do I get so bogged down in my own struggle that I fail to really notice the struggle of the people next to me? I may glance their direction and see them in a moment of triumph only to miss the next moment when they fall flat. At that moment, I was surrounded by real people with real struggles, real concerns, and real needs. If it weren’t for that time of prayer, I would have walked away completely ignorant.
How often do I get so bogged down in my own struggle that I fail to really notice the struggle of the people next to me?
We have a tendency to walk as though in a tunnel, not seeing the wider world around us. We focus only on who or what is in front of us (usually through the small screens of our phones) while running the risk of ignoring—or even injuring—the souls beside us.
The Apostle John wrote: “By this we know love, that [Jesus] laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3.16-18)
Jesus loved us with a sacrificial love. He noticed what people ignored, listened with care, and met people at their need. How can we love others like Jesus?
Open your eyes and see.
The fictional character of Sherlock Holmes had a knack for noticing the little things. He made the comment, “The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.”
Sometimes we see people without observing them. Practice the art of being present and paying attention to the details.
When spending time with someone, take note of their body language. If they seem a little slumped or their eyes a little dark with weariness, take stock of what you know (or don’t know). Are their kids well? Are they a caregiver? Do they work in a high-stakes industry? Do they have the grueling task of working with the general public? Are they bearing the burden of leadership?
Get ready to move beyond the initial, “How are you?” to a more detailed, “Tell me more about _______” (and be prepared to listen).
Open your ears and hear.
I have a terrible habit of listening just enough to respond. Let’s seek first to hear rather than be heard. As you listen to someone, consider:
- What seems important to them?
- What do they say when you ask the “deeper” questions?
- Do they seem to dodge your questions?
- Do you think they may need a little help?
It’s hard to be helpful to someone if we aren’t really aware of what’s going on in their life. Careful listening communicates to the speaker that they are important to you, and sometimes that’s all a person needs—to know they are loved enough to merit an attentive listener!
Open your heart and help.
Sometimes, our ability to help may be limited, but that doesn’t mean we should do nothing.
First things first—pray. As you pray, ask the Lord to open your eyes to what would be helpful to the other person. Think outside the box and ask yourself how you would want to be helped if you were in their shoes. What has someone done for you in the past that you found uplifting?
It could be as simple as calling them later in the week or spending extra time with them.
“Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”
Put down the phone and look at people’s faces. Pick up the phone and listen carefully. Put aside time to help someone in need.
In our tunnel vision, we tend to run over the very people we claim to love because we don’t truly observe them. Wherever you are today, take a moment to see, listen to, and help one person with Christ-like love. The best way to draw people to Jesus is to love like Jesus. We shine our light by the way we love.
Elihu Anderson is a surviving California native currently thriving in West Texas. When she isn’t writing for Elihu’s Corner, she is teaching, researching, walking, and book-worming with a cup of chai. Visit Elihu at elihuscorner.com