“Because Jesus wasn’t about doing big things. He was about doing the right thing. And often for him, the right thing was noticing one simple soul.”
—Karen Ehman, Listen, Love, Repeat: Other-Centered Living in a Self-Centered World
Is there someone in your life who models Jesus well? Or someone from your past?
At this time of year, I think of my dad more. During the holidays, we tend to think of those we lost, missing them and their presence.
I had the privilege of receiving a copy of Listen, Love, Repeat: Other-Centered Living in a Self-Centered World by Karen Ehman, and I couldn’t help thinking of my late father when reading the chapter “Who Makes Your Day: Noticing the Necessary People.” My father was a person who truly noticed people, who took the time to smile at those along his path, a person who paused when he asked the question, “How are you?” wanting the true answer. He didn’t live life rushed. True, we were always late to church (and EVERYTHING), but we were always the last ones to leave too. (I got the lateness gene from my daddy.)
He was good at hearing what Karen Ehman describes as the “heart drop”: “It’s when a person, either directly or in a cryptic way, gives you a peek into his or her heart” (15).
My father had a true servant’s heart. Of course he wasn’t perfect, but he did model in so many ways the heart of Jesus, from his listening ear to those all around him to reading his little green Bible on the subway to work to the way he quietly cleaned the pews after each church service, picking up stray bulletins and gum wrappers and putting pencils back in their holders. The other day I was going through a box of jewelry and found an old watch that my father had repaired. I remembered that day I was rushing around like a maniac, packing for a trip, and my father, always the Mr. Mom, had pulled out his blue butter-cookie tin full of sewing needles and thread to repair the fake-leather strap that had torn. I remember too the many nights my father stayed up late not only paying bills to make sure a roof was over my brother’s and my head but also sewing buttons on his little girl’s shirts so she could wear her favorite outfit to school the next day. Sure, the needlework was a bit messy, the thread crisscrossed like a thick spiderweb, but he took the time, and it did the job.
I had the best daddy.
The days of his funeral were packed with people from family to the dentist to the owner of the local pharmacy to coworker after coworker sharing stories of how kind he was and how he showed Jesus to them. I’ll never forget one gentleman who told us of how my father would read the Bible in the break room and how he eventually came to know Christ through him. A few weeks after the funeral, this man died in a freak accident.
I once heard it said that Jesus’ real ministry was the person he found standing in front of him. Who is that for you today? Rather than trying to do something grand for God, perhaps we need to embrace the obscure instead. To stop trying to be profound or important and instead just be obedient. To quickly and humbly obey when we feel God calling us to engage with another or to cheer and hearten a weary soul. Are you willing to mimic the behavior of Jesus (21–22)?
I spent many an afternoon hopping on the trolley to downtown Pittsburgh to meet my dad for lunch. He worked in credit collections on one of the top floors of a department store building (think Macy’s in Miracle on 34th Street), and I loved all the different floors. There were not only floors with clothing but also floors with a bookstore, pizza restaurant, bakery, diner—you name it. And it seemed my father knew someone on every floor, from the man straightening the tie display in the men’s department to the woman stocking raspberry thumbprint cookies (oh how I miss those!) to the cashier at the bookstore to the myriad coworkers in the cubicles populating his office. We never just had lunch; the lunch hour was always full of walks to say hello to people and ask about their day or their families and for them to gush over how much my dad talked about us to them. And his care for people didn’t stop at coworkers; it also went to the people he talked with on the phone, people who weren’t paying their credit card bills.
Have you ever worked in a call center or known someone who did? It is NOT an easy job. And calling someone to discuss their defaulting on their bills could be particularly stressful. But my father, who was once a top life insurance salesman in Pennsylvania but took this more steady job to ensure the bills were paid for his two children, saw this credit collections job as a ministry. He knew the stress of financial hardship, and he also knew the temptation, the siren’s call, of credit cards and how easily you could get in over your head and not know how to get yourself out. So he took time with each person on the other end of the line, and his 100 percent quality scores proved it. He was proud of those scores. I will admit that my father had Italian braggadocio in him sometimes. He didn’t mind sharing his accomplishments, especially when asked. To me, it’s more enthusiasm; there’s nothing wrong with enjoying your accomplishments. There’s balance.
My father modeled serving Jesus in everyday life. He told me that as a teenager, he thought one day he’d be a pastor. And while he never went to seminary nor donned the mighty pulpit each Sunday, his loyalty to the church and his roles as church treasurer and choir member and pew cleaner-upper were ministry. But I’d argue that my father’s pastoral heart was truly shown in the way he loved the everyday people, the necessary people, as Karen Ehman calls them (87). The people you encounter each day—from the barista who makes your coffee to the mailman or mailwoman to the librarian who helps you find the materials you need for the many papers you have to write.
Every day and every week, our lives naturally intersect with many people, all of whom bear the image of God. When we look beyond ourselves—and beyond the flaws and quirks of others—we see God. We have an opportunity not only to greet these necessary people face-to-face but to witness God’s very image in them.
Each person in his or her role demonstrates some aspect of God’s character and his care for us. Our hairstylist “notes every hair on our head” (Matthew 10:30; Luke 12:7)! Our lawn service creates a beautiful natural setting for us to enjoy (Genesis 9:3). Our butcher provides delicious food to nourish our family (Proverbs 31:15). Our carpet cleaner makes our carpet “as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18; Psalm 51:7)! … Our doctor—and other medical professionals—help us to live, and breathe, and have our being (Acts 17:28). Yes, everywhere we look we see reflections of God’s creative genius and loving care in the people who serve us.
Our lives can have more meaning and seem more of an exciting adventure if we stop to notice these necessary people. As we recognize them as image bearers of God himself, we will be more cognizant not only to thank them for their service but to do something to encourage them as well (91–92).
Let’s walk through today a little more unrushed. Let’s take time to flash someone a smile or ask how he or she is doing. Let’s look for opportunities to serve God in the everyday—and keep alert to the heart drops of others.
At my father’s funeral service at the church he served so faithfully, the sign outside read, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” I’m not sure there could be a greater honor than to hear those words upon our arrival into eternity, uttered with pride from the lips of our heavenly father.
I will be giving away a copy of Listen, Love, Repeat: Other-Centered Living in a Self-Centered World AND an advance copy of the study guide with DVD on December 12. To enter, share this post and let me know in the comments where you shared it.
(Next week’s post will be about how serving and loving others can inspire fun DATE IDEAS!)