A few years ago I zoomed down the highway, silently fuming at a woman who I felt such bitterness towards because of her treatment of a child I was caring for at the time through foster care. Her poor choices were affecting not only the child, but my own life in some difficult ways, and I was looking for someone to blame.
I had been told by others and readily believed this woman was a “hopeless case”. She wasn't going to change. She had always been this way and always would be. Her life showed nothing to the contrary. It was riddled with devastation.
Honestly, if I had really thought about it, I was probably glad others considered her a hopeless case. I probably didn’t want her to have a shot at redemption. She had messed up too much.
Nonetheless, I offered a quick, silent prayer to God, but any sense of compassion felt miniscule.
Suddenly, right there on the highway, I was struck by Jesus’s words from scripture:
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (read more here)
And in the same moment the Parable of the Good Shepherd came to mind.
Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ (more here)
I was taken aback. I had been planning to fume a little longer but all feelings of anger vanished.
So the Doctor exists for the sick. The Good Shepherd goes after the one sheep who is lost.
Jesus is all about the hopeless cases.
It was a moment of clarity in a situation that wasn’t distant but affecting me deeply, daily. God was giving me eyes to see brokenness, and to offer love where I naturally felt hatred. My heart was instantly changed toward that woman. I hurt for her. I saw her as a beloved child of God, lost and alone. I wanted to tell her how much she was loved by her Creator. I so badly wanted her to know her value and worth.
The rest of the details to that particular situation aren’t mine to share for now. Maybe someday.
And of course, it only takes a second to recognize we are all the hopeless people. We may have varying degrees of stability and privilege in our lives. Some folks suffer more than others in situations beyond their control. Some make really bad choices.
It’s only by the grace of God that we can be people of Hope. Some of us know this with all our hearts because we have experienced the power of His rescue. And heartbreakingly, some will never know.
As a person of hope, the responsibility is mine to look at what the world calls hopeless cases and pray they will be touched by Hope. Sometimes hope might be offered through an actual relationship and the meeting of needs. In other circumstances, the fruit will only be felt from a distance as my own heart changes, and hopefully theirs.
Living with a transformed mind and heart in Christ gives us the rare opportunity to love supernaturally, in a way that doesn't quite make sense.
Living in a suspended state of anger can be captivity. Releasing it to the Lord, handing over our heavy burdens to him brings freedom.
It means being open to a changed perspective when we only see a dead end.
It is so natural and easy to love my good friends and those who are like me. It’s quite another thing to choose LOVE for my “enemies.” It’s kind of where the rubber meets the road, though. Do my actions reflect my beliefs? Jesus said to love my enemies. These are some powerful and revolutionary words right here when you take a moment to contemplate their implications:
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”
No matter what our stories or who our lives are connected with, we all experience “enemies” of one kind or another. I talk to my children about this a lot. We talk about how holding on to bitterness and anger only makes us ugly. It’s in releasing those feelings to God and trusting his justice, timing, and provision that we are released from the ugliness, and free to beautifully live without being tied to anger.
I pray this for our family -- that God would continue to give us the eyes and hearts to see people as He sees them. I believe it will change our lives.
I wrote this post a few months ago, and have since read the book, “Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life” by Nouwen, McNeill, and Morrison. I highly recommend it!