I love reading invigorating stories of people who have started NGOs, founded orphanages, adopted foster kids, created fair-trade organizations, or pulled off some other world-changing feat. But as inspiring as these people are, most of us aren’t called to that kind of mission. We’re in one place, woven through a family and a community, living pretty low-key lives.
The ringing of my phone interrupted my quiet evening drive. It was a close friend on the other end, “Marie, I need you to pray for me!” She only had a few minutes to talk, just enough time to tell me about the very stressful things going on in her life, and I assured her that I would pray for her. After she hung up, I prayed for her out loud for the rest of my drive.
Most of us are familiar with the phrase “Love never fails.”1 It’s illustrated in children’s devotionals. It’s woven into songs, stories, and poems. I can’t remember a time when this scripture wasn’t familiar to me.
In my younger years, I took it to mean that love was always strong enough to get what it wanted. “Love” held the trump card and could somehow get its way. I guess I had a somewhat manipulative idea of love. I thought it could outsmart, convince, reason and persuade to encourage whatever results were necessary.
I was watching an interview last Sunday, and the guest was asked, “What’s the greatest need in the world today?” Without hesitation, he responded, “Empathy. The world needs more empathy.”
I probably would have responded, without thinking, that the world needs more love. But I liked his answer. It was much more specific to say that the world needs more empathy.
I generally consider myself a forgiving and “nice” person, but I had an experience in my sophomore year that tested my ability to forgive. My classmate Matt and I were paired up to do a presentation about modern English literature, and Matt got on my nerves from the start.
Vanessa waved at me as the doors shut, and I watched the train whisk away a friendship of six years. Vanessa and I had met in junior high school, and our common interest in writing stories and shared taste in novels had started an unbreakable friendship that had lasted through all the highs and lows of our teenage years. Now she’d won a scholarship and was going abroad to pursue her degree, leaving me to try to figure out how to go on despite feeling like her departure had pulled the bottom out from under my life. Of course, I’d always known that one day we’d both leave home and go our separate ways, but now that it was actually happening, I was crestfallen.
When I think back on my unforgettable freshman semester in college, an image of a six-foot-five, lanky fellow with longish black hair comes to mind. Steve was a senior in my department, but we first met in a General Education course. He won my admiration by joining me in the front row, the spot avoided by most students. Although I barely recognized him, having only seen him a few times in the department office, he acknowledged me with a nod.
Treat everyone with politeness, even those who are rude to you—not because they are nice, but because you are.
Life is short, but there is always time for courtesy.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882)
The small cafeteria at our workplace was abuzz with chatter. Colleagues sat in groups and the room was humming with conversation. That morning I felt I had little to contribute and opted to sit alone. Staring out the window, I was lost in troubled contemplation of recent loss, rough edges in my working relationships, and a nagging health issue, and I wondered when I would finally reach the proverbial end of the tunnel where the sun shines again.
One busy day, I was trying to get my boys to their computer classes on time when we realized that we couldn’t find one of their textbooks nor the house key. More frayed nerves and frantic running around. In the midst of it all, my phone beeped. It was a text message from a number I didn’t recognize, and I was taken by surprise by what I read: