When I was seven years old, I saw Jesus sitting on a rock across the street from the Arby’s on Lebanon Road. I wasn’t in crisis; I wasn’t sad or in trouble. I simply saw the Son of God hanging out in Hermitage while I was eating a roast beef sandwich with my mother and sister. It’s like He knew that there would be times in my life when I’d doubt His presence or even existence so He was giving me the “proof” many years before I’d really need it–and boy have I needed it.
There aren’t many weeks I don’t think of Him sitting on that now-grass covered rock. In the last couple of years, the memory has brought much needed peace. I am so happy He let me see Him on that day so long ago. I’ve felt frustrated at times hoping He’d let me catch another glimpse—often finding myself angry at the fleeting but genuine belief that He’d taken too much from me too soon. My parents. My grandparents. My friends. The other family members I hold dear and didn’t have long enough and health scares of my own. Often, I’ve wondered if He’s revealed Himself to me all my life but in ways I was too stubborn to recognize.
Do you see people? I don’t mean do you notice people are here or there. I mean do you see them, really stop and look at them? Do you remember them? I’ve worked in some pretty rough urban areas in this city and elsewhere. I’d like to say I always lock eyes with the obviously-hurting. The truth is that I often avoid it.
Sometimes, it seems better not to see people in pain for the fear that we won’t know what to do. It is hard to think of people trapped inside real prisons or the prisons of their minds, of their addictions, of their mistakes or just their circumstances. It is less soul-crushing to judge those whom I am supposed to be serving if I can separate myself from them. If I can differentiate myself from their decisions and lots in life, I might rationalize that on some level, I am better—or at least immune. The truth is that I’ve battled my own demons, my own addictions and challenges. And each time I fall, I have a loving family to pick me up, dust me off and push me forward. There but for the Grace of God goes the saying. Truly it must be the Grace of God that has shielded me from the most serious of consequences of some of my worst decisions and failures in life. The reality is that we’re really all the same. Some of us are just luckier than others. We live and we die. And some of us, for whatever reason, have an easier time with the period in between.
Others struggle in ways most of us can’t imagine. The mother who struggles to feed her children. The man who suffered years of childhood neglect and abuse only to grow up to abuse himself. The imprisoned. The forgotten. The hopeless. The people who die alone on the streets and park benches of our Bible Belt “It” city. For many, these people’s plights invite judgment. “They should (get a job, stop drinking, fill in the blank with any solution we think would work.” What we don’t see is how participating in or ignoring another person’s suffering only hurts us and our own humanity.
I respect all faiths, but I’m mostly proud of my own. We are lucky because we seek to follow a Man who gave his life for people who didn’t deserve it and who loves us anyway. We get to know the heart of a Man who gave up a throne to see people. The sick. The voiceless. The hurting. The uncertain. The scared. The lost. The rich. The poor. The sick. The lonely. The prisoner. The free. The gay. The straight. The sinner and the saint. The unlovable. The unworthy.
Whom does God believe is holy enough to do His work? He leaves us no better examples than the poor, homeless couple He chose to bear His Son in a stable. Did they understand the price? Did anyone know how afraid they must’ve been or how unprepared they must’ve felt for such a holy task? Faith. Hope. Love. Through the doubt. Through the pain that is part of the human condition. What incredible examples they left us of how to live faithfully into experiences we didn’t ask for and couldn’t understand.
As the rest of this Christmas season unfolds, let us remember that we’re all in this together and in the year to come, seek to see our brothers and sisters in the joys and sorrows of their lives, to be vulnerable to our own. This doesn’t mean we only see those like us; it means we see EVERY ONE of God’s children. Let’s find Christmas in those things that endure.
May we all experience the days ahead as a peaceful pursuit of the Breath of Heaven, the one who is always seeking us—whether He’s sitting in a magnificent cathedral, a downtown sidewalk, a dirty alley or across the street from a suburban Arby’s—the Prince of Peace, the Lord of Lords, the King of Kings.