“Love is patient, love is kind…”
First, a story.
Several weeks ago, I took our youngest daughter to her therapy appointments. Alisa is 12 months old, and she receives occupational therapy and physical therapy twice a week. Alisa also has Down syndrome.
We arrived at the office that Tuesday morning, and we were a few minutes early. I walked into the waiting room and took a seat a couple chairs down from an older woman, who appeared to be waiting on her grandchild to finish an appointment. I settled into the chair with Alisa in my arms. She was in a delightful mood that morning, as she is most mornings.
We only had a little time to pass, so I decided to play with Alisa while we waited. She was full of smiles that day. I could feel the lady’s eyes on us, but I didn’t mind at that point. Who doesn’t watch a cute baby in the room? It didn’t take long, though, for the woman to speak:
“She is small!” The lady exclaimed, lacking any sense of endearment in her tone. “How old is she?”
“She just turned one,” I answered with a smile, and I went right back to my baby. I could feel the lady’s eyes on us still, and I tried to ignore whatever speculations she was making about my daughter.
Thankfully, she turned her attention to another baby girl across the room, who looked to be about Alisa’s age, though she was crawling all over the room. The lady engaged in conversation with the other baby’s mom, commenting on how cute she was and how well she crawled. After a while, their exchange ended.
At this point, I was tickling Alisa, and she was cackling with delight. I could feel the woman’s eyes return to us, and then she made the decision to say more of what was on her mind:
“Well, at least she doesn’t lack for affection.” Her tone was flat, her words unimpressed.
At least...she doesn’t lack for affection? What? I was more surprised than anything in that moment. I nodded my head at her in reply, slowly gathered my things, and walked away with Alisa. The waiting room was small, but I desperately wanted to shield my child from any more comments or judgements this woman was formulating. Thankfully, it didn’t take long for our PT to come to the rescue.
“[Love] does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.”
I tell this story for two reasons.
I first want to point out that we all have experiences in life that sting. Every last one of us. We all, as human beings, have been bullied, snubbed, judged, rejected, and looked down upon, at one time or another. The truth is that some of us experience more hardships than others. Some groups of people experience greater or more frequent cases of injustice and hatred than others. But we must remember that we all have fallen victim to the hand of another person’s evil at different times throughout our lives. If we lose our ability to empathize with one another, to understand this fact, we lose our ability to love.
My second reason for telling that story is to shed light on a greater truth for Christ followers. Once we are joined to the vine of Christ, once we walk away from this world and take our place in a heavenly kingdom, our narrative should forever change. We no longer identify in our weaknesses, in our hurts, or in our suffering. No longer is our identity rooted in our ethnicity, our socioeconomic status, our gender, our strengths, our disabilities, or any other way in which the world tries to peg hole us. We forever are identified, first and foremost, as children of God.
Christ unifies His church, and because of this, barriers are broken down. This is a fundamental truth of the gospel. Rich and poor, healthy and sick, male and female, powerful and weak, we all join together in Christ. We all come together and form the body of Christ on this earth. No person is more integral to God’s work in this world than another, as we all serve a great purpose (see 1 Corinthians 12:12-27). Each of us brings value and purpose to His kingdom in this fallen world, and the narrative of scripture teaches us that we are to busy together with His work.
“[Love] does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking,
it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”
I have a child with Down syndrome. I could tell of other experiences, my own and my friends’, in which people have said hurtful, hateful, or ignorant things to us. The day that woman spoke so foolishly to me, not even hiding the dislike from her voice, was a painful one. Her words floated in my mind all morning, taunting me. It wasn’t until I told my mom of the encounter later that I allowed the full weight of my hurt and disbelief to wash over me. But I had a choice.
I could live in the hurt. I could allow that encounter to make me angry, resentful, and bitter. I could allow my indignation to direct my steps. I could have gone home and written an open letter, “To the lady in the waiting room…” to fuel my feelings and to expose her for her intolerant beliefs.
But Scripture tells us a better way:
“Fools show their annoyance at once, but the prudent overlook an insult” (Prov. 12:16).
“A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense” (Prov. 19:11).
And as 1 Corinthians 12 explains, love “…is not easily angered.” So we process the hurt. We don’t ignore the feelings that arise from those painful experiences, but we don’t live in them, either. We talk to those we trust, friends and wise counsel, who can help us to work through any issues needed. We go to Christ with the injustices, the prejudice, the hatred we have experienced, and we lay it at His feet. We keep no record of wrong. That is love.
“Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.”
We have a long way to go in changing the world’s perceptions of people with Down syndrome. I have been given a gift in the person of Alisa, and my family embraces the mission of helping others see the beauty and wonder of a person like my daughter. But we do so not through hateful words, accusations, or angry encounters. I could have said something to the lady in the waiting room that day, but it wouldn’t have been anything loving. So I write about Alisa. I use words in an effort to let others see how her genetic makeup is not something scary or undesirable. I allow others to ask questions, and I tell of my own experience and feelings with honesty.
I also do speak up when needed. I recognize the genocide that has occurred through legalized abortion, wiping out people like Alisa before they ever take their first breath. This is a priority for me, an issue I see as important and worth fighting. It also informs the way I vote. It is not the only issue that informs how I vote, but it is high on my list. This is because I do not delight in evil, no matter how we rationalize it or justify it, and I rejoice in the truth about Alisa. I want the world to know that her life has value.
I understand that what is important to me may not be as important to everyone else. We all, as the body of Christ, are gifted to see things uniquely. While the passions of my heart may be true and right and important in the eyes of God, another person sees the refuge and makes it his mission to speak on her behalf and to rescue that person from a place of great injustice. Another sees the orphan and sacrifices everything to reach into the pit of despair and to pull that orphan out. We all are doing Christ’s work, and we all are working together to love others with His love.
The beauty of this is that we all can teach, strengthen, and sharpen one another. We can help one another to see ways in which the body of Christ might need to do a little more work. Each of us alone cannot be all things to all people, but all of us together can show this world even just a little of “the breadth and length and height and depth” that is the love of Christ (Ephesians 3:18).
“[Love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
Christians, genuine brothers and sisters in Christ, let us not fall prey to the rhetoric of this election! Let us not allow the divisive language in these post-election days to lead us to label others who may have voted differently than us! It is ok to hurt, to question, to wonder. It is never ok to accuse, to label an entire group of people based on the way they voted, especially when we must all acknowledge first that this was an impossible election. Every Christian I know wrestled with who to vote for based on the options we had. Many of us wrestled in prayer, and many of us walked away from our prayers with different decisions on how we would cast our ballots.
But you see, love is our answer. Not love as defined by the world, a celebrity, or a political party, but Christ’s love. His love speaks into our brokenness. His love calls sin what it is, but His love also offers the answer. His love reveals our selfish and sinful pursuits, exposing our deceitful hearts; His love also frees us.
The outcome of this election does not change our mission as Christ’s children, and Jesus Himself told us that mission clearly:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-38)
So let’s do this, and let’s do this right. Love the Lord. Seek Him first. Pursue holiness with abandon.
And love your neighbor. Love your Facebook neighbor. Be kind in your online interactions. Also, love your live, flesh-and-blood neighbor. Sacrifice your possessions to love those in your community. Give yourself away.
The great thing about it? We win. Not politics, not the presidency, not our economic goals. We, the body of Christ, win. How do I know? I read it somewhere…
“Love never fails.”
(1 Corinthians 13:4-8)