It was last week when my feet were pounding down the rust-colored marram paths of our neighborhood in my coral pink tennis shoes (the ones Oliver–my househelp and one of my closest Ugandan friends—makes fun of and then admits she would like to have). My heart felt, as it usually does, lifted by the wide blue skies and the lush, nearly untethered greenness that is Uganda.
But it’s on one of the backroads that I heard a young child alternating between high-pitched wailing and screaming—unintelligibly, either because it wasn’t in English or because it was contained within the high walls of the compound I was jogging past.
A woman’s voice responded, though even now I can’t tell if my conclusions about it were drawn from the tone of voice, or because so few mothers of this neighborhood would be staying home with their children. Many of the nannies, called a maid here, are quite significantly underpaid for the hours and types of labor they put in. Often they are mistreated, being approached (in a bad way) by the male masters of the house, or scorned by the women who fear that the nannies will seduce the husbands.
Still—going off tone alone—the voice did not respond like a mother’s. (Or hey, let’s be honest. It could have been a really stressed-out mama. Been there.)
That’s when a random verse popped into my head. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees…
This found me wondering about the temptation in our relationships to act more as a “hired hand” for Jesus rather than a shepherd: if we flirt with a certain level of indifference, hoping their junk is not our burdens to bear. Not my problem. How we envision fleeing the building, arms pinwheeling, when we get a whiff of what we really signed up for.
Going the distance with people is just plain hard.
I’m not advocating some unhealthy, “the world is my responsibility,” manic form of love. But contrast this with Jesus’ conversation with Peter: Feed my lambs. Get in there and take care of them like I would–the ones right in front of you. Be my love, right there, with skin on.
Galatians 6:2 puts it powerfully: Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
It’s hard to care for people in the same way you would for someone who belongs to you—to really fight for them, against the wolves in their lives that threaten to rip their fluffy (occasionally oblivious) little lamb chops off.
Frankly, I’ve seen this lately in my mom. I am in awe of the way she unravels her schedule (a sacrifice for someone who thrives with meticulous planning), remains awake late into the night (though she’ll tell you she turns into a pumpkin at nine), and goes the distance–sometimes literally, willingly traversing the nation and the world for those she loves (though her even-keeled personality enjoys being at home). She walks through their challenges with a beauty, a sacrifice, and a true joy whose fullness is known only to God.
Author Lysa Terkeurst blogged recently of a phone call from a “stressed” friend of hers, a discouraged mom with a newborn—and a son who’d forgotten his lunch and the required belt for his school uniform. Terkeurst recalls an epiphany, sitting at a stoplight:
Her son could probably get his friends to share their lunches with him. But, tis mohe belt would be a problem. The school would call her when they noticed the missing belt and require her to bring one. She lives over 20 minutes from the school.
As I sat at the stoplight listening to my friend, I looked to the store off to my right. That store has belts. That store has lunch food.
I was faced with a decision: Could I help? Well, I could but my schedule would have to be rearranged a bit. Would I help? My friend wasn’t asking, but in that moment I knew it would be a tremendous blessing for her.
This day I wouldn’t let my busyness take precedence over the blessing of divine interruptions. So, I helped.
What I love about this: Terkeurst allowed her schedule to be subservient to love.
A friend of mine recently demonstrated this persevering, watchful love toward a little boy who she’s not sure she’ll be able to adopt anymore. When she discovered he might no longer be adoptable, she and some close friends all fasted together for a day, wrestling in prayer for this boy’s future, for whoever his family would be, and that he would know the Lord. No matter who that sweet boy’s mother would be, his soul and his welfare were being lifted to God.
Sometimes I think God alerts me to some of His griefs, His cautions, His “wolves” by allowing my own heart to mourn for them, or just to see a bit of what He sees. I’m not held accountable, I think, to pray for all of what He sees. And the idea is not to turn what can be cheerfully given into an obligation.
But perhaps sometimes I just get bent out of shape about them. “Oh, NO! There’s a WOLF! Does no one see this?!?!” Forget pouring myself out in prayer for them (which might even lead me to action). My knotted soul chokes with worry rather than prying loose those knots, so to speak, through the “powerful and effective” prayers to the One who can, and will, do something.
We’ve been told, perhaps ad nauseam, to “be the change you want to see in the world.” Paul Miller, in his exploration of the book of Ruth, notes, “Naomi doesn’t wait for blessing to fall out of the sky. She answers her own prayer by doing [persevering love] with Ruth.” She becomes much of the blessing she asks of God.
Some of you are doing this so exquisitely in life, taking “brother’s keeper” to the next level. You’re pressing in, pressing on bent beneath the load of someone else.
May you be encouraged and renewed today–by the Jesus who bore our own crushing mass of grief and self-inflicted pain: This kind of love, I know, is beautiful in His sight.