A few weeks ago I hauled all four of our children to Costco, which is always an adventure and an exercise in self control. I must remain intentionally focused on keeping my voice to a gentle, peaceful tone whenever they start (and they always do) running around and acting like wild monkeys. On this particular evening, I put the kids to work hunting for chicken and apple sausages in order to keep them focused (and behaving). When they were just on the verge of turning into wild monkeys, my sweet little son stopped and began to cough (while smiling), and then, without any warning, he began to vomit ... everywhere.
Pulling on my supermom cape, I quickly snapped into rescue mode and picked him up to rush him to a nearby garbage can, sprinting in my high-heeled boots, which was impressive, I might add. Unfortunately that just made his vomit spread down the entire aisle, and my pant leg. Fabulous! And I thought my children acting like monkeys was embarrassing? I’m guessing you can imagine the scene.
Several people walked by and gulped as they attempted to hold back the vomit themselves. Others looked at us, and then rushed by pretending they did not see. A few other people looked over at all my wild monkeys, then to the vomit down the meat aisle, and rolled their eyes annoyed at the inconvenience this had caused them in trying to get to their pork chops. Remember how I said a trip to Costco was always an exercise in self control? At this point, I was doing my best to continue caring for my son while trying to hold back the tears that were just waiting to leak out of my eyes.
A woman came around the corner and looked right into my eyes, and compassion entered the scene. She put my wild monkeys to work and sent them to gather paper towels nearby. Then she began to wipe my son’s face, my pant leg, and she gave my vomit-covered hand a squeeze. She was not concerned about getting the germs on her, she wasn’t concerned about her grocery list, she wasn’t concerned about being inconvenienced, she was concerned about loving me.
A few moments later a butcher named Jeff from Costco’s meat department began to roll out his cart preparing to restock the meat, when he stumbled, or rolled onto the scene. His eyes looked to my sweet little son, then back to the mess he had created. With zero hesitation he quickly pulled off his long white jacket and put it on the floor covering up the largest portion of the mess. Rather than worrying about the mess, he walked over to my son, smiled and said, “Are you OK, little guy?” He reached up and grabbed a plastic bag for me to put my son’s clothes in and held it as I pulled the nasty clothes off him. I’m not sure if I can quite accurately describe this scene. These two individuals were standing in my son’s vomit, tenderly, and compassionately caring for us, and more than they would ever know, they were extending the hands of God to an overwhelmed mama who was experiencing a sense of absolute defeat.
This whole Costco experience has rolled around in my mind for the past few weeks and caused me to wrestle with these questions ... “Am I willing to rush into the lives of people in the messiest of moments or is there a part of me that holds back, attached to my own agenda or concerns about how their “messy” might impact me?”
We might not stumble upon a wild monkey vomit scene all that often, but we do have situations all around us that are “messy” and cause us to have the same knee-jerk reaction.
Sometimes we see the situations people around us are in; their deep emotional need, the grief they are walking through, the gaping wounds that exist from their past or their present, etc., and we react in several ways.
1. We simply walk by, gulp, and attempt to hold back our own messy. We do this because we have fear if we get too close to the “mess” it will get on us, stir up our own pain, or we will get sucked in forever.
2. We see the need, but we quickly walk by and pretend we did not. We aren’t sure what to say, what to do, and as a culture, we don’t know how to simply “be with” people in their situation ... we tend to want to help “fix” it, and if we don’t know how, it’s easier to just pretend we don’t see.
3. We look at the situation, see the wild monkeys and the mess, and we are annoyed because it feels like an interruption to our agenda. (I mean, we are looking for pork chops for goodness sakes).
This one is a humdinger. We have plans of what needs to be accomplished in our own lives, and so when an “interruption” comes, we see it as just that, an interruption, rather than an opportunity to love.
What if when we rolled into “messy moments” in people’s lives we responded like Jeff the butcher instead? He rushed in with compassion, care, and an attitude of love. Jeff had a task before him, and yet, he looked above the details of his agenda, and rushed into the mess of vomit (literally). Responding like Jeff means we would rush in and see the person who was in desperate need of love, grace, forgiveness, and kindness as opposed to attempting to steer clear of the mess. We wouldn’t worry about getting the “germs” ourselves or interrupting our agendas. We would only express love and concern for the person.
Above all, if we responded like Jeff, we would be responding like Jesus, who embraced people in the messiest of situations. Jesus saw the individual, he saw you and me, in the darkest, messiest moments of our lives, and he rescued us. We were his mission, his agenda, not an interruption. He took off his white royal robe, like Jeff took of his white butcher coat, and Jesus made himself nothing by taking on the nature of a servant. He became sin for us so that we could be made right with God through him! Wow!
“Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” — 1 John 4:11-12.
Even though the holiday season is over, let’s not rush past people in fear of the “messy moments.” Let’s walk right in, with zero hesitation like Jeff the Butcher, and make God’s love known in this dark world.
Sunny Cain, a pastor at LifePoint Church, can be reached at email@example.com.