The arrival of spring has brought trips to our neighborhood park back along with it. Last week I had taken both boys up to the playground to run around and enjoy being outside. Ever since he could walk, Isaiah’s favorite part about going to the park was watching and meeting other kids. Our little social butterfly has always enjoyed playing at the park (or anywhere) much more when there were other new “friends” to experience it with.
Our playground is part of the park that also includes the building that houses our community library, as well as an IU8 preschool. During this particular afternoon, the teachers from the preschool walked the kiddos over to our “Acorn Cove”. Isaiah was thrilled. A dozen kids his age to meet and play alongside.
There was one little boy in particular that won my heart. He was very friendly – immediately asking my boys’ names and enthusiastically sharing his. Though he was the same age as Isaiah and about the same height, he was extremely overweight. My heart broke as I watched him try unsuccessfully to climb on a swing by himself…and then was shattered into pieces when I realized that his teachers couldn’t even lift him. He was just too heavy.
Because he was also significantly behind developmentally, my mind immediately flashed forward to imagine what life would be like for him a few years down the road. I wondered if he would be teased, bullied, or ignored by his peers. Being a teacher in the school system before staying home to focus on being a mommy, I had seen it before and was not naive enough to assume that it wouldn’t happen again with this little boy.
While Isaiah had latched on to another new “friend” and was running around the playground, this little boy took quite the liking to Toby. He wanted to talk to him and play with him. And Toby loved it. Tear filled my eyes as I watched him squat down to Toby’s level and reach for his hand.
And unlike, perhaps, what many of us would do, Toby quickly accepted…without hesitation and with a huge grin on his face.
At 12 months old, Toby has not yet developed prejudices or judgmental looks. He doesn’t understand social status or academic labels. He doesn’t noticed differences in color or shape or lifestyle. He doesn’t base his response on what baggage someone is carrying or how they’ve messed up in the past.
He simply looked on this boy with love and acceptance.
And I silently begged God that Toby wouldn’t change.
Isaiah came back over to check in with me and tell me about his “new friend” that was “really kind” and let him go down the slide first. Toby’s new friend then stood up, walked over to Isaiah, and proceeded to ask Isaiah if he would play with him.
I panicked as I watched Isaiah’s face. His big blues examined the boy. His face revealed that he was fully aware that this boy was different. That he looked different and sounded different and acted different. In those brief seconds, I could only picture Isaiah saying “no, thanks”. That he’d hide behind my leg or turn and walk away.
Thankfully, Isaiah quietly said, “Okay. What do you want to do?”
And off they ran.
As relief washed over me and I caught my breath, I thanked God for my 4 year old’s compassionate heart and pleaded with God to foster it’s growth.
And I breathed a prayer of confession. Ashamed of the times I haven’t responded like my boys did that day.
My husband preached on Jonah on Sunday morning and I was sickened by the thought of my own arrogance and self-righteousness. The realization that, like Jonah, there were times that I’ve told God “no, thanks” and would rather keep God’s grace for myself rather than giving it to others.
Yesterday morning I studied through a familiar story of the Good Samaritan and the question of “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:38-42) and my thoughts went back to that afternoon on the playground. I was thankful that my boys responded lovingly to someone in need. But I wondered how many times I’ve been the one to “pass by on the other side”.
Beth Moore suggests that Christ’s terminology implies that both the priest and the Levite in the familiar parable were each on their way home from Jerusalem. That they were returning from performing their brief tenure of service in the temple – “the most important life work they would ever do.”
They had just been doing work serving God, being obedient in the ministries assigned to them…and yet they completely missed an opportunity to meet the needs of someone else on their way back home.
Oh, Father, how often have I “passed by on the other side” or looked past those who needed love because I was too arrogant or self-righteous or ignorant or too busy with what I deemed a more important “ministry”?
“But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.”
– Luke 10:33
Not only did this Samaritan (who, by the way, would have been despised by the Jews…even the man that needed help) feel deeply for the man in need, but he also put his compassion into selfless and sacrificial action.
“He went to him…”
Making the first move. Taking purposeful steps toward. Entering into his pain. His mess. His helplessness.
“…he bound up his wounds…”
Offered healing. Offered hope.
“…he set him on his own animal…”
Took his neighbor’s weight. His burden. And walked alongside.
“…he brought him to an inn and took care of him.”
Gave him shelter. Gave him protection. Gave him rest.
“…he took out two denari and gave them to the innkeeper…”
Sacrificed not only his time and energy, but his own money to ensure his neighbor’s restoration.
“Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among robbers?”
He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”
And Jesus said to him, “You go and do likewise.”
– Luke 10:36-37
Yesterday afternoon Adam and Isaiah were working outside, pulling weeds and planting flower bulbs, when Isaiah asked if he could go see the neighbors. Still busy tending to the plants, Adam initially told him no, thinking that none of our neighbors were outside. But Isaiah noticed what Adam hadn’t and pointed to an elderly lady in her own backyard. With his Daddy’s permission Isaiah then bounced across our lawn and into hers and struck up a conversation. And I’m sure he put a smile on her face.
When Adam told me what had happened, my mind went back to Jonah, who showed more pity for a withering plant than he did for an entire city living in sin and that didn’t know their Creator (Jonah 3:10-11). And I really don’t want to be like that.
This morning I’m praying that we’d follow Isaiah’s example…and that he’d never outgrow his heart for his neighbors.
Father, please soften our too often hardened hearts. Remove the scales of prejudice and elitism and fear and selfishness and busyness from our eyes. Renew our vision so that we can see the needs of our neighbors – whether they be across the street or on the other side of the globe. Give us hearts like Jesus – full of love and a deep desire for others to know the Truth. Loosen our grip on what we see as “ours” so that we might freely share our resources. Pry open our fingers so that we might willingly give out the grace that we’ve so beautifully received.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
– Luke 10:27