Several posts ago, I wrote about my idol of being seen as magnanimous and compassionate. As April, our hostess here in Greece, and I were driving along downtown Zakynthos this morning (she was driving, I was in the passenger seat), the Holy Spirit suddenly gave me an insight about an incident that happened decades ago.
In those days, I had a friend named Margaret who was a single mother with two sons the same ages as my children, around 8 and 10. We did a lot together and Margaret had a difficult life, working full time and trying to raise her sons without any positive help from her ex-husband.
Margaret was rarely without her boys except when she was working, and I felt sorry for her. I volunteered to take care of her boys overnight and was thrilled with the idea that I could give her such a wonderful gift of being alone or to go out with friends.
When she came the next morning to pick up the boys, she went on and on about how much she missed her sons and couldn’t sleep since they weren’t with her. She most likely thanked me at some point (I don’t remember) but what I do remember is how hard it was for her to be without her boys.
As I listened to her, my heart hardened. I thought, “OK, then, you must not want time alone. I’ll never take care of them again.”
It seemed very reasonable at that time. She didn’t want to be without her boys so there was no reason to take care of them. Cause and effect. But what came to me this morning as I thought of my recent blog is that the reason was deeper than that. Her lack of thanking me profusely and not having the desired effect (the effect I wanted for her), really was more about me not being seen as magnanimous and compassionate (and a related characteristic: helpful).
I felt like the proverbial balloon with the air let out. I’d looked forward to hearing of her amazing time alone or with friends that would make me feel good that I had blessed her. With the emphasis on “I”! I would be the source of her gift of blessing, not the Lord.
But could it be that He had a different “gift” for her? Maybe He wanted her to feel like she missed the boys in order to minister to her in a completely different way than I could imagine. I thought I knew what was best for her but why would I think that? Am I God that I could see her heart and her need?
As I began typing this blog, I sensed an additional message from God’s Spirit. I was thinking I was ministering to her real need but her real need was something else.
Margaret not only worked a full time job but she delivered newspapers to homes every morning (or maybe it was six days a week–I can’t remember exactly). Early on those mornings, around 4am, she woke her boys up and got them into the car where they continued to sleep. Then she picked up her pile of newspapers from some delivery point and drove through neighborhoods throwing newspapers onto multiple driveways. Then she would go home, get the kids ready for school, and go to her workplace. She kept up this pace for years. Years!
I was amazed at her dedication. I knew I had an easy life with a husband with a good job. So when the day came that she called me with a request, I should have had a different response.
“Kathy, I saved some money to go on a two week vacation but I need someone to deliver my newspapers for me. Would you do it?”
Now I’m the queen of not being able to say no, but this request was easy to say no to. The inconvenience and lack of sleep I would suffer was just too hard to swallow. I’m sure my excuse sounded reasonable: “Larry works the swing shift and has to sleep in in the mornings. There wouldn’t be anyone to get the kids ready in the morning.”
I distinctly remember the pause before she said anything. I truly believe she thought I would help her. I felt bad. Was my hardened heart still affecting me?
She did find someone eventually to cover her deliveries, I’m glad to say. But it wasn’t me.
The new insight? I already felt selfish so the new insight is that I didn’t love Margaret “well” because I thought I knew what she needed. I thought she needed a night without her boys, but she really needed someone to make a vacation possible. But the cost of loving her well was too much for me.
Caring for her boys overnight didn’t really cost me much yet I thought the reward of being seen as magnanimous and compassionate would be huge. Delivering the newspapers would cost me too much in comparison to the reward. And maybe since she didn’t express appreciation for the first favor, maybe I feared I wouldn’t be rewarded as I should for the second.
The past is the past. I can’t change what happened. I can’t even ask for Margaret’s forgiveness. She is in the Lord’s presence. But I can repent of my idol of being seen as magnanimous. And I can seek God’s glory regardless of the cost.
Where is there an opportunity for me to love “well”? Where can I have an opportunity to love sacrificially without regard for how I’m being “seen”? Where can I love without expecting a particular reward?
My Father who sees in secret will know. And my Father knows best what a person needs. I pray I can be available for whatever He desires for me and someone else whom He wants to bless His way.
Do you often consider your motives? Are your choices to love for another person’s welfare or for your own desires? It’s an important thing to evaluate.