I was in line at the store the other day, and there was an older gentleman in front of me. He had only a handful of things - I forget what most of them were, but he was buying a large bottle of rum and a bucket of fried chicken from the deli. He was a weathered sort of man - deep lines of worry and unhappiness etched on his face - the sort of guy who would be completely believable as an old New England sailor if you put him in a yellow slicker and Wellingtons, and gave him a pipe and a rainhat and a wooden leg. I looked at him, and I looked at his dinner, and I thought, wow. How sad. What is it that has brought you here? I imagined him going home to an empty house, watching tv, and reading the paper, and having chicken and rum for dinner. Amazing how quickly we judge and concoct potential storylines, isn't it?
The lady at the checkout was extremely nice. She chattered at him as she rang up his groceries, and joked about remembering to take a break now because the chicken smelled so good. He kind of half-smiled at her as he left, and she wished him a good evening. Then she turned to me, and said, "He always seems so sad. So I try to make him laugh when he comes. If I can make him smile, that's something. He really needs to."
I love it that someone in a large grocery store has paid attention to the people coming through her line - that she remembers him, and tho she doesn't know his story, she cares enough to risk seeming a little foolish simply in hopes of getting to smile... which granted, is a small thing - but it's also amazing how a smile can completely change your day. I want to be that kind of person - the kind of person who notices the people around her, and starts to know and care about their stories. I do that with those that are closest to me, and with a number of blogospherical friends - but there are so very many people in the course of a day with whom I do not even make eye contact... That can change. I can be more loving than that.
And sure, it's risky. There are times when we will love ridiculously much, and it will be unappreciated, unseen, or unrequited even. There are times when we will be (or feel) betrayed and the pain of it will be suffocating, and we will need to remember how to breathe again. Love, however, does not look at that risk and retreat. It looks at that risk, and maybe it takes a deep breath and has to summon up some chutspa, but it loves anyway. It remains patient, it stays kind. It refuses to be envious, it chooses the road of humility, and it does not draw attention to itself in a boastful manner. It will not respond to mistreatment (either real or perceived) rudely. It does not seek its own gain. It doesn't go getting torqued off by just anything, and it forgets whatever wrongs have been done to it. It never delights in evil, and always rejoices with the truth. It protects. It trusts. It keeps hoping in the face of complete and utter hopelessness. It does not give up. And it never fails. It is always love.
Have you ever thought about that in relation to Jesus? It just struck me this morning (probably again, tho it feels like new revelation) that this is exactly the attitude Jesus had, even as He was nailed to a cross. He forgave all the wrong as it was being done. He stayed love. And love did not fail. In fact, He succeeded. Love literally "saved the day" - He saved us. He rescued us. He rescued me.
So even in those times when it is hard to love - when other roads would be "understandable" - I will choose love. I will risk it, to be like Him. And tho I may never be dragged before the Sanhedrin and beaten for my faith as the disciples were (Acts 5:41), I am sure there are other ways in which I will suffer for this choice. But I will count it all joy, to be counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name of Jesus - to be known as one who walked His way.
I can't do it by myself, Jesus. If I try to, I will screw it up. But You can make this true of me. You can so sanctify my heart and my soul that choosing love is just my natural response to anything, no matter what it is. Make it so, Lord, please. And may Your love shining through me reach this broken and desperately hurting world. Amen.