So many of us struggle to feel that our work—the ways we spend the majority of our time and the way we pay our bills—has lasting spiritual value. This is remarkable, given how often Scripture insists that everything we do matters to God.
Many of the local churches in our city still exist with the same spirit of segregation that has plagued my country for so long. Aware of this evil, a group of pastors and leaders across ethnic divides meet monthly for breakfast. We pray and eat. We talk about economic realities and political structures. We talk about our local history (decades ago a neighborhood with thriving black-owned businesses was razed to the ground). The most powerful thing, however, is when one of us is bold and vulnerable enough to share our own story, our pains and fears, our hopes and our longings. In that moment we draw others close. We allow other people to share our burdens, to share our life.
In 2011 an earthquake and tsunami caused a catastrophic meltdown of three nuclear reactors in Japan. A massive evacuation ensued, displacing thousands, with a 20-kilometer radius marked as an “exclusion zone.”
Recently, I’ve had to intervene in several blowups between my two sons. The result of such events inevitably leads to their losing the privilege of spending time with friends, loss of their allowances, and more. They’re learning that the failure to work out their differences peaceably can be costly. Thankfully, I’ve also had opportunities to lavish generosity on both boys, to surprise them with a gift they would never have expected. I’m trying to teach them that both my correction and my generosity are gifts from me to them. Both emerge from my love toward them and for them.
Over the past month or so, my wife and I have had some hard conversations. Places of deep hurt have become visible again. As we’ve talked, amid much sadness, I’ve had to reckon with a lasting wound I left on her heart. Years ago, before we were married, Miska and I endured a significant conflict. In that turmoil, I spoke words to her that were foolish and immature, words that lodged into the most tender and vulnerable places of her heart. I didn’t speak in anger or malice, but rather with ignorance and stupidity. I’ve asked her forgiveness multiple times, and she has freely forgiven me. Still . . . the wound is there. My words can’t be taken back.
I recently called a friend who has endured more than his share of hardship and weariness. People dear to him, people he loves, have made choices that have caused themselves pain and brought him heartache. When my friend answered the phone, however, his voice was bright.
I doubt that any word gets tossed around in our world with such frequency and flippancy as love. It’s common for us to justify selfish behavior or whitewash actions harmful to others all in the name of some weak notion of “love.” Too often our actions performed under the guise of love have nothing whatsoever to do with the reality of it.
I have a friend who has spent most of his life with people who live on society’s margins: People experiencing poverty or homelessness, those who wrestle with addictions or simply exist outside the mainstream, anyone who might be considered an outcast. “That’s where I seem to fit,” my friend says. “On the edges.” He helps believers in Jesus learn how to be in true friendship with those who are different. “This kind of friendship isn’t as complicated as we like to make it,” my friend insists. “Often it’s as simple as knowing someone’s name and how they like their coffee.”
I live in a region and neighborhood that share a tragic racial history. For instance, the daughter of one of my elderly neighbors was part of a civil suit to force area schools to obey federal law and desegregate. As I’ve spoken with my neighbors, I’ve had to grapple with the racial divide in my country, with the many ways people have yet to fulfill God’s mandate to be agents of reconciliation.
Dan Price announced in April 2015 that he would slash his CEO salary by roughly 90 percent so he could raise the salaries of his workforce (approximately 120 employees). By doing so, Price proposed that by 2017 everyone working for him would make at least $70,000 per year. To make this happen, his salary dropped from $1,000,000 to $70,000 per year—matching his employee’s minimum compensation. Price did this because he wanted his employees to have all they need. News of this generosity spread quickly because it is remarkable and unusual in corporate culture.
Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arch communities, has spent his life loving those often ostracized by society. L’Arch creates living communities for those with disabilities or those who, because of their need for intense care, would be institutionalized if they didn’t have such a home. Vanier talks about how the communities are centered around the most basic acts of caring for the physical body—bathing, dressing, and feeding residents who can’t do those things on their own.
When I was a kid, my dad encouraged me to be courageous and not play it safe. He could see how tempted I was to overthink a situation or to hedge my bets. “Do something!” he would say. Then in jest, he would add: “Even if it’s wrong, do something!”
Every so often my wife and I will flip through family pictures and note how much our two boys have changed. I’m amazed at how small and childlike they were not so long ago. We’ve lived through these years with them and have witnessed their development. Yet their transformation has been so woven into the rhythm of our lives, we don’t notice the changes until we look back.
Recently, while I was out jogging, I listened to a recorded conversation between a 9-year-old son and his father. Rain poured down on me, but my eyes were even wetter from tears. The father told his son of the immense joy he felt on the day of the boy’s birth when the doctor had handed him his son for the first time. He also shared the concern he harbored that day: “You know, [I felt] fear . . . I gotta bring up a black boy in Mississippi, which is a tough place to bring up kids . . . there are statistics that say black boys born after the year 2002 have a 1-in-3 chance of going to prison.” Then he added these sobering words: “All three of my sons were born after the year 2002.”
I once had a difficult interaction with one of my sons. He had made several poor choices requiring a serious conversation. My son had a tender heart, however (as he often does), and he took responsibility for his behavior. Though I was frustrated with him, I told him that I forgave him. Later, aware that something was still bothering my son, I asked what was going on. “Well,” he replied, “you said you forgave me, but you didn’t exactly say it in a lovely tone.” My son picked up how I offered the right words, but the way I spoke told a different story. I said I forgave him, but I didn’t interact with a tone of grace.