This post was originally given as a speech for the annual gala event of a local chapter of Safe Families for Children.
There are plenty of voices telling us why we do the work that we do to care for our community–to reach out with hope and compassion to those in crisis. But I would like to reflect with you about how we do it.
Whether or not you have stories of your own yet, I’d like to paint a picture for you so you can imagine yourself in these scenarios, and then I’m going to have the audacity to suggest that I have a magic formula for making it work.
Imagine you agree to host a sweet six year old and then you trip on the stairs and break your foot the first night. Imagine you are keeping a one year old with full-time daycare but then the daycare is unexpectedly closed two Mondays in a row. Your daughter throws up. Your heater stops working. You wind up in bed with the flu. The basement toilet quits. Oh, and the back door handle is broken.
My point is that Safe Families is ordinary, and it happens in the middle of our ordinary lives. Sometimes our ordinary lives feel really, really messy.
I wasn’t the mom with the broken foot, but all the rest of that was my life last month. I had just finished a major grad school audition to boot. After months of exhausting preparations, I just wanted to relax.
But we’d said yes to a few weeks with a precious little guy who needed shelter during a short-term crisis. It was a Sunday morning and he was fussing on a changing table in my guest room as I slathered his eczema with cream. I was bleary-eyed and grumpy and didn’t really want to help. I was basically The Grinch.
I’m telling you this because I want to make a point that not only does ordinary life get messy, but our hearts are sinful and bent towards selfishness.
Years ago I nannied a child who I did not love. I’m not proud of this. I’m here to tell you from experience that simple tasks are a drag when you don’t want to do them. If you don’t know what I mean, ask your kid to clean her room when she had plans to play. Being the caretaker for a child I resented was hard. Making lunch and wiping noses was joyless and annoying and draining without love.
Exhausted as I was on that Sunday morning last month, I thought back to those nannying memories. I had enough experience under my belt to realize that I could not afford to be the Grinch. Sharing our life with this baby would be way too hard unless I loved him.
I’ve been thinking a lot about love over the past year. How the love of God shapes what we do. How we’re designed for love because we’re designed by God. How we’re designed for connection and for attachment, to God and to each other.
I’ve been thinking about how I’m made to be with Jesus and to love Jesus.
Why is it that it’s valuable for a child to attach to you even for a few weeks if that’s all you have? Why will you look into his eyes and tell him he’s beautiful? Tell her you’re glad she’s here? Why will you care about her if you won’t ever see her again after this month? I think it’s because we’re designed to be connected, and when you give a child the gift of connection you are giving her the gift of her inherent design and dignity. You are giving him the chance to Be With. To know that he’s not alone.
All of us need that. We crave connection with those we love. I think most of all that’s because we crave connection with Jesus.
So here’s my magic formula. I looked down at that little guy on the changing table and I thought of that verse we like to quote, “Inasmuch as you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.” We get a lot of mileage out of the “least of these” phrase in our circles of mission and service work. But what jumped out at me that morning was the other half.
“You did it to me.”
For just a moment I saw Jesus covered with sores. If Jesus were covered with sores wouldn’t you want your name to be on that list of caretakers? Wouldn’t that be the opportunity of a lifetime? And wouldn’t it be embarrassing to show up grumpy for that assignment?
Loving that little boy was an opportunity to love Jesus. That is what we are doing when we love each other. When you bring a pizza to a host family you are feeding Jesus. When you spend your Saturday at the park with a six-year-old you didn’t know last week, you are spending your Saturday with Jesus.
You can see it another way if you’re not careful. I know this from experience. You can see the cost and the mess, because it is costly and messy and really exhausting. But if we look carefully we can see Jesus in each other and all this work can become an opportunity to be with him and to love him.
This is what we’re designed for: to be with Jesus and to love Jesus.
I want to encourage you to look beyond the broken foot and the broken door handle and open your heart to the friends of Jesus.
I believe when we do that our work is transformed into joy, and that joy will transform you. You won’t see another task added to your load. You’ll see Jesus, and you’ll see people he loves being loved by him (through you!), and you’ll see yourself caught up in his love as your heart opens and grows and you add to your family one more time: one more person: one more pizza: one Grinchy heart-size bigger than you were before.
That is my prayer for each of us as we give generously from our own lives in our various ways, as we bring hope and love to our community. Let’s be a team of eager love-bringers. Let’s connect to each other and connect to those we serve. Let’s see Jesus in each other and be transformed by love.