Under the Influence of Love
Today’s Truth Matthew 5:43-44 NIV “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighborand hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemiesand pray for those who persecute you.”
Friend To Friend Dan and I once lived in a neighborhood of predominantly retired people who became surrogate grandparents, aunts and uncles for our two children since both of our families lived several states away. The one exception was the older couple that lived behind us. They complained about almost everything we did. Our kids were too loud. Our dog barked too much. Our garbage can was six inches over their property line. It was not unusual to find cryptic notes and warnings taped to our front door or wedged under the windshield wipers of our car. I not only considered them to be sandpaper people, I thought of them as a nuisance. In dealing with these neighbors, our children taught me an important lesson about the power of identifying and meeting a need in the life of a sandpaper person.
The Southerlands have many family Christmas traditions. When our two children, Jered and Danna, were young, we made Christmas cards for special friends and family members. Since we lived in South Florida, cold weather rarely ushered in the holiday season and I could not get past the idea that when Christmas rolled around, the grass was supposed to be brown – not bright green, and the climate was supposed to be cold – not hot and humid. Our solution was to turn the air conditioner on and lower the temperature until the house was cold enough to turn on the gas fireplace. We listened to Christmas music while baking sugar cookies and making our special Christmas cards. In the midst of one of those Hallmark moments, Jered, looked up at me and said, “Mom, are we going to make them a Christmas card?” I had an idea who them was but desperately hoped I was wrong. I wasn’t. “You know, Mom, the Smiths,” Jered explained.
Being the spiritual giant that I am, I responded, “Son, why would you want to make them a Christmas card? They are mean!” How is that for loving your neighbor? But the Smiths had complained about something we were doing wrong almost every day that week, and I had just about reached the end of any patience I had ever had with them. “But Mom, I never see any kids at their house. Nobody ever comes to visit them and they don’t even have a dog,” Jered insisted. We made Christmas cards for the Smiths.
When the kids wanted to deliver those cards, I suggested that they wait until their dad came home so he could get in on the fun. I know. I am evil. Nope! Those cards had to be delivered immediately. I was clearly outnumbered. As we headed out the door, Danna yelled, “Wait! I forgot the books!” Okay. I was clueless. Why in the world would we need books? With a sigh of exasperation, Danna said, “Because they might want to read to us, Mom!” She didn’t say it, but I could hear the silent “duh.”
Books and cards in hand, we once again headed out the door when Jered suggested, “Mom, we should take them some of the cookies we made.” Now that was asking too much! My sugar cookies are a “must” for every special holiday and considered by many to be “scrumptious.” And now my children wanted to waste some of those precious cookies on people who would probably toss them in the garbage.
However, the silent plea of our son’s blue eyes persuaded me to add a Christmas tin of my delicious sugar cookies to our quickly growing stack of nice things to take to people who were definitely not nice. With every step, I prayed that the Smiths would not be home. I rang the doorbell and after a whole thirty seconds, turned to Jered and Danna and said, “Too bad! They are not home. We can come back later.” At that precise moment, Mr. Smith opened the door and barked, “What do you people want?” I could see the headline, “Pastor’s Wife Arrested in Neighborhood Disturbance.” It was one thing to be mean to me, but when someone is mean to my kids – well, let’s just say it isn’t pretty.
As I counted to ten for the second time, Jered thrust the Christmas cards into the man’s hands and said, “We made you something and it’s free!” No way! It was not possible! I thought I saw the beginning of a smile on Mr. Smith’s face. Danna chose that particular moment to hand Mr. Smith the cookies. “And these are for your mother,” she said, her big, brown eyes sparkling with excitement. Great! With six words, my daughter had just aged Mrs. Smith by twenty years.
And then it happened. Mr. Smith smiled, stepped back into the house and called, “Mother, we have company.” For two hours, the Smiths read books, ate sugar cookies and raved about the beautiful cards the kids had made. When we finally left, Mr. Smith said, “Such lovely children. You should have more!” Mrs. Smith hugged the kids and asked, “Why didn’t you bring the dog?” I was speechless. And I was ashamed. My heart cried out to God, “Lord, I am so sorry for being so blind to the needs of these people. Please forgive me.” But that is not the end of the story.
The Smiths became friends and great neighbors. Weeks later, Mr. Smith had a heart attack and was hospitalized for several days. Dan was able to visit him and share Christ with a man who simply needed someone to recognize the deepest need of his life – and do something about it. Our children led the way and taught me a powerful lesson about the depth and height of God’s stubborn love and what can happen when we are under the influence of that love.
Let’s Pray Father, please forgive me for refusing to love the sandpaper people in my life. Right now, I choose to let Your love flow through me as I deal with difficult people. Let me see them through Your eyes. Show me how I can meet a need in their lives and then give me the wisdom and strength to meet that need.
In Jesus’ name,