In the spirit of helping others around Christmastime, my husband and I decided to give away some gift cards at Goodwill. We chose this store because we like to support the work they do, and the people shopping there are making an effort either to stretch their dollar or conserve resources by reusing. We figured we stood a better chance of making a positive impact with the relatively little that we were able to give away.
Anyway, I am not sharing this to toot my own horn, there is something I learned in this adventure.
It was really awkward. We really didn’t know what we were doing and we wanted to be as discreet as possible. So, we shopped for a bit first since Matt had never been in the store and we allowed the kids to look at the shoes, their favorite item to try on. Charlie is a fan of women’s heeled sandals. Eep. As we walked around, I inadvertently was checking out potential recipients. I ruled a few out right away, of course. One young woman I spotted as soon as we entered the store and here and there as we wandered around. She was wearing black leggings, leopard print spike heel boots and an obnoxious white faux fur coat … and was pushing a cart full of clothes. I decided she was rather vain and obviously shopping for herself.
Then we purchased four gift cards so that each one of us could select a person to present it to. Matt went first. He decided that the poor gentleman shopping with his wife for shoes, who was endlessly asking for his opinion, deserved a little kindness. He was grateful. We selected two others as well with less than enthusiastic response but that wasn’t our concern. Then it was my turn. It had been haunting me for a while … I knew who it would be. I was so adamant that it shouldn’t be her, that I knew it would be: The obnoxious woman in the fur coat.
I approached her and my heart immediately softened. I hadn’t even really noticed her face before. But when I got up close, I saw her. I really saw her. She gave me a warm, surprised genuine smile, not just with her mouth, but her whole face lit up. And admittedly, she was the most appreciative of what we were doing. I tear up just thinking about it. How judgmental I had been. And how it may have been just for her that God sent us to Goodwill that day to deliver a message of His love. It wasn’t a complicated homily, just an expression of love during a busy holiday season when everyone’s a little more stretched than usual. I don’t know what God will do, if anything, with that moment in her life, but I know it impacted me. And I could have missed it completely because I wasn’t really seeing her.
When we see people with our own eyes, instead of through God’s eyes, it’s easy to make it all about “me.” What’s good for me, who is fun or cool and who is going to make me feel good. But, sometimes it’s not about you. In fact, it’s not at all about you. So much about what we do and how we spend our times is a waste. We should be thinking about what we can do today and who we can serve and love that matter for eternity.
People are weird. People’s lives are messy. Sometimes it’s easier to stick with or gravitate toward people who are not so different from ourselves. (Although I have to say, I think partly what scared me from this woman is that she’s probably more like me than I care to admit!) Or toward people whose lives appear not to be quite so messy. But here’s a little secret: everyone’s a mess in some way or another. There’s been times in my life when I didn’t realize that my life was a mess, but it was. And there’s been times when I knew it was a mess but I did everything I could to be sure nobody could see it. This doesn’t mean that everyone needs to know everyone’s dirty little secrets. But I also don’t think we should shy away from people who aren’t afraid to show a little brokenness once in a while (and we shouldn’t be either). At least they know they aren’t perfect. And it’s really then that we can get to know them (or let others get to know us).
There may be a reason God put someone in your life, either for your benefit or for theirs. When we follow God’s direction, instead of our own, we can find purpose in our lives for serving and loving others instead of ourselves. That’s genuine love, as demonstrated for us by the One who surrounded Himself with imperfect people, those who knew they were a mess and knew they were in need of a Savior. Just like me.
“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.” Romans 12:9-11