In a previous devotional, I had mentioned an assignment I gave my students over the winter break: make a difference in the lives of at least three people with whom you are not terribly familiar, and write about it. Keeping it very open-ended, I put no limits on them as to how they could accomplish this task, whether the difference be through words, actions, or even virtual. When it came time to read the results, I was very moved by their responses and what they chose to do.
As previously covered, some students decided to improve the lives of those around them by handing out random compliments, words of encouragement, or just a simple smile and a greeting. As most were taken by surprise by this unwarranted kindness, the recipients of these actions were pleasantly surprised that someone was taking the time to make them feel good about themselves. Then, there was another group: students who kept a keen eye out for those in need, offering help where it was desired, looking to fulfill needs where they could. Since it had recently snowed, many wrote about shoveling a walk or driveway for someone unable to do it themselves. Some sought out the homeless and worked towards feeding them at soup kitchens or buying them lunch. Others helped elders in need with crossing a street, while another helped one into a car from their wheelchair.
However, some assistance was for people you might not immediately rush to help, as the thought is that they might not need it. One student wrote about how she saw an older man in a supermarket who was holding quite a bit of fruits and vegetables. Provoked only by the sight of him, she approached with a shopping cart, helped him transfer what he was holding, and offered to push the cart around the store for him. Smiling in immense gratitude, he continually thanked her, joking about how if it wasn’t for her, he might have dropped a banana and slipped on it like they do in the cartoons. Another wrote about a neighbor struggling with carrying boxes from his car to his house, and how the student went over and just started helping. Yet another was about a woman in a store who was clearly having trouble bagging her items, and in frustration, dropped a bag. The student approached her, asking if she needed help. She looked up, sighed, and responded with an exasperated, “Yes, please.” What amazed me with each of these was the bravery that each student showed by jumping in and helping, running the risk of making a situation worse or being rejected, and the immense gratitude from each of these people who needed help but might have been too polite or proud to ask for it.
So, it was with uncanny irony that I found myself in a similar situation during this past hurricane-like, zero-degree weather snowstorm. I watched out my house windows with great curiosity as a car attempted to climb the hill of my street, only to slide back down and become wedged in the drainage ditch. He got out of his car and studied the situation, while my wife ran out to check on him, inviting him into our home. An older Russian man, she offered him whatever she could, returning with a shovel and some coffee. I offered to lend a hand, but he politely declined. For the next 45 minutes, we watched him work unsuccessfully, as we wondered what we should do, if anything.
With great hesitation and trepidation, I swallowed whatever fear I had about rejection and reaching out to someone I didn’t know, thought back to the bravery of my students, suited up, and marched myself outside. When I got there, it was clear that he had no plan but was too polite to ask for help. I also found out that he had just been in an accident on the highway, so he was already having a horrible time getting home. He lived not far, and was so close to getting through this all. So, we dug, gunned the engine, turned the wheels, dug some more, talked, laughed, worked, and had the car out soon after. With his heavy Russian accent and somewhat broken English, he told me that when the weather is warmer, I am to bring my family to his house and he will feed and entertain us. What was initially frightening to me became a wonderful moment of human connection. Although it took everything for me to go out there, it really took nothing to do so. As my students often put it in their writing, to put yourself out there and help another person, although scary at first, is actually incredibly easy and makes such an enormous difference not only in that person’s life but in the world, as well.
The Bible calls upon us to treat our neighbors well, loving them as we love ourselves. The call to be kind and loving is made repeatedly. 1 Peter 3.8 says: “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.” Yet why and for what purpose? Yes, there is cause to model Christ’s love for others who may not see it otherwise, but it’s also to spread His love, letting its contagious nature take root in each of us. When Christ’s disciples were told to go and spread the good news of His miracles and resurrection, the number of His followers went from a handful to millions. Similarly, the example of my students’ courage in approaching others in need led me to take a comparable action with this snowbound Russian man, and who knows what my example will lead to next.
This week, look for opportunities to be brave and lend a hand where it’s needed but isn’t asked for. Let the bravery of others before you take hold in your soul and inspire you to act similarly brave. And allow your actions to inspire others, continuing a kindness that started well before all of us, tracing back to the cross, the kindest of all acts that inspires us in all we do. Amen.