RUBY: I'm currently reading Wonderstruck, Beth Miramonti's suggestion, by Margaret Feinberg for Eat, Read, Pray Book Club at Troy UMC. An early passage made me think of you, Sue Busler:
Will you be someone who breathes life into others?
Breathing life begins with the simplest of actions. See someone. Really see. As you reach out and interact, offer your full attention to whoever is in front of you. Listen to someone. Really listen. Give someone the gift of your presence- your fully present, undivided attention. Pray for someone. Really pray. Though it may feel awkward in the moment, as if you can offer a prayer, and bless the person with kindness. Give to someone. Really give of yourself. Find an unexpected way to help someone whose needs remain unmet. Radiate the generosity of Christ. (Kindle, Loc 1345)
When you approached me, a stranger to you, months and months ago in the sanctuary, you did this so intentionally without any sign of awkwardness. To me, you were cool, confident, and, most of all, caring . . . exactly what I needed. I think of this happening often and use it as inspiration for my own actions. Never in a million years would I have had the courage to approach a stranger praying in a sanctuary, but I now push myself to introduce myself by name during the sharing of peace in worship because of you. Thank you.
Tell us more about your ability to intentionally interact with others. Have you always done this? Did you learn this behavior? What advice might you give others to start the process of intentionally interacting with others?
“Currently, there are commercials, facebook jests and jibes, Oprah campaigns, billboards, and countless real-life dinner table discussions about a nationwide epidemic that involves people whom I have dubbed as saps! Who are saps? They are people who Stare At Phones (SAP) ‘round the clock, wherever they are. A lot of us are saps sometimes, but some of us take it to a new level of sapdom! This urgent need to be constantly connected to the world via our handheld devices can be dangerous to our health, particularly when we are driving or eating out with our significant others. It is also indicative of a much deeper underlying problem in our society today. We are so hooked on our technological gadgets that, half the time, we don’t even see the people around us. Eyeball to eyeball communication and interaction is almost a thing of the past. Our techno gadgets, coupled with our microwave, hurry, hurry, rush, rush life style, all contribute to our general failure to see those around us.”
That is an excerpt from the beginning of a sermon I once did on the topic of noticing – intentionally noticing those around us. When we closely read the accounts of Jesus’ life in the New Testament, we see that He noticed everybody, particularly the “least, the last, and the lost.” Not only did He notice these physical, emotional, and spiritual paupers, but He offered them words and touches of healing, forgiveness, encouragement, affirmation and prayer.
As followers of Christ, I believe we are called to do no less. In every walk of our life -- whether it be at the deli counter at the grocery store, on the other side of the cubicle wall in the office, in the chemo room at the hospital, under a bridge in St. Louis, wherever and whenever – we encounter people who are begging to be noticed. Sometimes they verbally share their issues with us, but most often we must discern their needs from their body language or their general demeanor. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrases, “I could see it in his eyes.” “It was written across her face.” People send us all kinds of different messages if we will just take the time to notice.
When we deliberately abandon our SAPpiness and intentionally notice others, the Holy Spirit comes alongside and gives us a nudge when we need to engage. When we are tempted to ignore that nudge we must cling to the knowledge that “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7) No doubt about it, when He calls us to serve as His emissaries on earth, He equips us for the task at hand. He gives us the words, the resources, the Christ-like compassion we need to minister to those who are broken.
I know this not only from Scripture but also from personal experience. As the director of a military hospital chapel, I found myself surrounded by people who were hurting and hopeless, each of them seeking the presence, the power, and the peace that only God can provide. Needless to say, when I first took the job, I felt ill-prepared and overwhelmed. Who was I to help them? Exactly! When I finally figured out that it wasn’t me helping them, but rather, the Lord working through me, it all fell into place. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t easy. Each encounter was different – the people, the pain, the purpose, the process, the prayer. But as with most things, it became easier with practice. It also became easier to “notice” those with needs and to recognize the nudges of the Holy Spirit as to when to engage.
Over the years, three of those “nudgees” in my life chose to accept Christ as their Lord and be in relationship with Him. Talk about a return on investment!! Sometimes there are immediate results when we obey the prompts of the Holy Spirit and, in some cases, eternal results. We never know the fruit-bearing capacity of the seeds we are planting. “All of us can count the seeds in an apple, but only God can count the apples in a seed!”
My Mother was and is a great noticer and seed planter so, yes, I guess it is a learned behavior in some respects. As a high school physical education teacher and coach, she poured herself into the lives of countless guys and girls alike who lived on the margin. Now, twenty, forty, even sixty years later (yes, some of them now use walkers), those former students continue to show up at the door or in her mailbox or on the phone, to share their joys and sorrows and gratitude. As Steve Jobs would say, she has made “a dent in our universe” and, I would add, in the Kingdom of God.
You, too, can make a dent for God! Begin today to notice the verbal language and body language of each and every person you meet. When you feel that gentle nudge of the Holy Spirit to engage, obey! Trust me, He will equip you for the encounter. Do not throw “the Jesus card” right out of the chute! Be yourself. Be vulnerable. Be authentic. Just show that you care. When it’s a Spirit-led engagement, you will be flooded with love and compassion you never knew you had. That’s because, maybe for the first time, you will be tapped into the boundless reservoir of the Holy Spirit’s living water. Dive in . . . the water’s great!
Notice, obey the nudge, and submit to the Holy Spirit . . . it’s as simple and as difficult as that! Gazillions of hurting people are in your path every day. What are you waiting for?!