When I was hiking in a park with my grandfather, our trail lassoed a lake at the bottom of a valley. As we walked, several smaller paths broke away from the main trail. Each time we came to a fork in the road, my grandfather let me choose which way to go. I always picked the steepest, rockiest, most difficult choice. My grandfather sighed a few times, but he took on the most challenging path for my sake.
Nehemiah was grieved at the report of the dire state of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:3). He shared God’s heart for the holy city, but could do nothing about it in his position as a cupbearer for the king in far-off Susa. Then, his opportunity to make a difference came in a most unexpected way: by risking his life in making a request of the king (Nehemiah 2:4-5). A cupbearer wasn’t even permitted to express unhappiness on his face, let alone describe his grief because of the state of his far-off home. To say anything was to court death. But Nehemiah did.
In a Downton Abbey episode, beloved housemaid Anna Bates is brutally raped. It was heart-wrenching to watch her try to keep it a secret. The head housekeeper, Mrs. Hughes, found Anna shortly after the assault—bruised, crying, and hiding in a corner. Despite the strong urgings of Mrs. Hughes, Anna told her to tell no one, not even her husband. She was not only afraid he would kill her assailant, but she also felt “dirty” and believed the attack was somehow her fault.
Pay it forward entails the beneficiary of a good deed repaying it by doing something kind for another person—not the original benefactor. In our fallen world, however, we sometimes “pay forward” pain by hurting someone in response to offenses committed against us—perhaps in the past—by a different person.
When my younger sister was 4 years old, a global dictator (who we’ll call Frank) was constantly in the nightly news and the contents of his angry speeches splattered across newspaper headlines. He was violent—spewing hatred and fear. My sister obviously had little political understanding, but she picked up on our national anxiety and understood that most people believed this dictator to be a dangerous, bad man. One day, my dad (who had taught us that God’s desire was for us to love absolutely everyone), quizzed my sister. “What do you think of Frank?” my dad asked. Perplexed, my sister carefully considered her reply. Finally, she answered. “I love him, but I wouldn’t play with him.”
Many odd and antiquated laws can be found around the world. In the UK, it’s an act of treason to place a postage stamp bearing a British monarch upside-down, and in England specifically, it’s illegal to eat mince pies on the 25th of December. In one US state, women must get written permission from their husbands to wear false teeth. In Milan, it’s a legal requirement to smile at all times—except for funerals and hospital visits.
During a convocation speech at a major Christian university in 2012, business magnate and TV celebrity Donald Trump told 10,000 students that the way to succeed in business is to “get even,” igniting an outcry from critics who said that Trump’s philosophy was inconsistent with Christian values.
I was babysitting two 5-year-old boys while their mothers went shopping. They were having a fun time playing together until one of the children threw a ball that accidentally struck the other on the nose.
A few years ago, I worked as a supply (substitute) teacher in Birmingham, England. I initially embraced the help of the teaching assistant, but when she started taking over in class I was tempted to give in to resentment and insecurity. Instead, I decided to act in a way opposite to what I felt by vocalizing my genuine appreciation of her, praying for her, and challenging her in love. When it came time for me to leave my position, she gave me a gift and a thank you card. Acting in the opposite spirit had disarmed a teaching assistant who might have felt threatened and unappreciated.
She said to him, “I don’t want to try to fix our marriage. It’s over.” What had started with such high hopes and evident love was now a cold, lifeless thing. My friend desired to see renewal and restoration in their relationship, but his wife made it clear that the two of them had changed and that their marriage would soon end.
When I moved near to the big city where I now live, driving on unfamiliar highways made me feel uneasy. Merging into heavy traffic elevated my heart rate. I dreaded becoming boxed in by tractor trailers and other vehicles. Cars and trucks streamed by me, making me feel that I needed to speed up. During these moments, my knuckles became white as I tensely gripped the steering wheel.
Scott and Robin began to worry when cracks appeared in the walls of their home. Over the course of 2 weeks, the fractures widened until their garage dropped away from their house. The rest of their property shifted and eventually sank 10 feet below street level. Then eight of their neighbors endured the same gradual catastrophe, linked to underground leakage from a county water system.
Jacob was on the run from his brother. Frightened and alone, he walked as far as he could, then grabbed a rock for a pillow. Dreaming that God was standing on the top of a stairway, Jacob heard Him promise, “I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go” (Genesis 28:15). He saw angels ascending and descending the stairway—going out to patrol the world and coming back to report what they had done (Job 1:6, 2:1; Hebrews 1:14).
Nine-year-old Eileen approached a pack of older boys in a schoolyard. They were beating an autistic student who was lying on the ground curled up in the fetal position. She asked the bullies to stop hurting the other student. The boys did stop, but only to push Eileen to the ground, where they cursed at her and stepped on her before fleeing. The local autism center later honored Eileen and said, “She defended this boy because of her courage.”