A long time ago in a galaxy far far away I stood chit chatting with a lady at church. She was somewhat older than I, respected in the congregation, a well-liked person with a nice circle of friends both there and in the community. She explained to me why she and her family decided to switch the service they came to after attending another time slot for many years. It came down to “those people” — how they smelled and conducted themselves when they occupied several pews near the front of the sanctuary each Sunday. The men, women, teens and children could not sit still. They talked to each other and spontaneously interacted loudly with the pastor throughout the service. They got up and down, up and down, walking the aisles, adults fidgeting visibly as whatever substance was recently or currently flowing through their veins urged them to do. Often their clothing wasn’t what church ladies would call . . . hmmm . . . apropos. Their aromas occasionally followed and preceded.
They were exactly where they needed to be.
The sweet lady couldn’t stand to be in the same room.
I like to think she felt safe telling me that. She was correct in assuming so because I was trained by a mother who, with a maternal gavel, pounded the notion into my brain of reserving judgment when we do not know people’s history or motives of the heart. So I remained neutral and practiced restraint. The jaw that twitched and threatened to drop to the floor stayed firmly in place.
It could be that she simply could not see these folks without picturing a son or daughter who had slipped into this culture. Maybe a grandchild lost his life to drugs. Did her own father succumb to an existence on the streets? It wasn’t my place to figure all that out and it certainly was not a right of mine to judge her. Instead, without supporting what I could not in the way of rejecting our brothers and sisters in the front pews, I said something to the effect of that we’d just enjoy seeing her and her family in a different time frame on Sundays and changed the topic. No eye rolling. No mini lecture couched in a holier-than-thou attitude.
Goodwill zoomed relentlessly straight toward her. Maybe she caught it. Maybe she didn’t. Still a lovely lady.
Maybe you’re wondering if my silence on the matter was an indication of tolerance. No.
Goodwill is not the same as tolerance.
Being kind or helpful or lending a listening ear without interjecting correction does not indicate endorsement of another’s habits or hangups. Not their sin either.
I’ve stood and listened to countless stories and opinions far more shocking than this. Layer upon layer of pain, suffering, rage, and details of activities certainly outside the realm of what one would call appropriate. Flat out sin. Were my reactions always perfect? No, but every experience moved me along in my resolve to do better in the eyes of the Lord, to show grace, compassion (without implied tolerance), and RELENTLESS goodwill. I’m happy to report that people don’t write me off like they used to when I was knee-jerk reacting and raising my chin a little higher into the air when they spoke. Not as many fences need mending these days. Humility has visited this broken vessel. Thanks be to God and my mother.
**Personal Aside: Indeed I have made mistakes in the realm of reacting to people and situations, even in the not so distant past. Rest assured my prayers for forgiveness from God have been heard and answered. He is teaching me and leading me, even at my age! I’m the Grandma Moses of starting anew.**
Here’s a handy list of those to whom we can show goodwill even if it’s hard. And boy howdy, a couple items on this list might bring faces to your mind. Good! It’s not complete of course. Add your own.
Uncles and Aunts
Waiters and Waitresses
Children of Yours
Children of Others
Health Care Professionals
Fellow Drivers on the Road
Scripture is beautifully clear as to how we are to interact with our brothers and sisters, fellow sojourners on this earth. Here is the Bible version I prefer when I’m reminding myself about listening without judging, asking God to prevent me from preparing a 3-point comeback speech. I have been known to silently whisper, “plank, plank, plank” when I’m considering getting all judgy. And these days I include “relentless goodwill, please, Lord.” See below:
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
Luke 6:41-42 (NIV)
Oh, and by the way, I didn’t get any heavenly brownie points for keeping my mouth shut during the conversation with my church lady friend. God began a good work on my too-active responses in 1980 when I wrote my first Bib. Lit. term paper titled The Paradox of the Tongue, and though He must get frustrated (ha!) He hasn’t yet abandoned the Molly Project. He expects me to succeed in this area. I’ve been disciplined by that scripture from James 3 in all different directions and twice on Tuesday for decades. It’s a struggle I openly confess. My mother in-law would most likely plop me into that category of a person “needing another dip” meaning my sanctification is questionable.
Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.
When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
James 3:1-12 (NIV)
So the practice of goodwill toward all is good for me. And, ahem, though I hesitate in my bluntness, it’s good for you. It’s like a session at 24-Hour Fitness but without the treadmill and free weights. It’s often exhausting, causes elevated heart rate and possible sweat, but is typically and reliably, maddeningly beneficial. (As if I frequent 24-Hour Fitness . . . ha.)
Another thing relentless goodwill is not: syrupy sweet.
Yes, I said it.
Some folks are naturally sweet from the get-go. That’s different from the syrupy variety. I know a few of these naturals and want to be around them, wrapping myself in their presence like a warm blanket. They are not to whom I refer. I’ve often craved a few more drops of Log Cabin gooey goodness in the old DNA but at this point it’s not looking likely and I’ll just keep on keeping on with what God gave me. He did indeed change my heart, giving me the ability to be a little less Bah Humbug-y and eye-roly than pre-Jesus me, but it’s only in sweet (heh, good one) communion with Him consistently that I can be taken out in public.
No one with whom I have ever come in contact receives syrupy sweetness well. Most have a built-in radar detector for that kind of thing and it’s a turn off. People walk away so fast that their Skechers screech. It can seem less than genuine, I suppose, so if you’ve been thinking of cranking the syrup dial a little higher in your interactions with folks, maybe think again. Those of you who are wondering what in the world I’m talking about are probably genuinely, naturally sweet and should just move on to the next paragraph. Enough said.
Finally, there is one form none of us should resemble in our practice of goodwill: the proverbial Doormat.
It is one thing to come alongside people, genuinely caring for them regardless of their viewpoint, their status, their smell, or even their hypocrisy. It is another thing entirely to become easy pickings because you were kind. Because you extended a hand of friendship. Because you practiced goodwill. Being taken advantage of is the worst. It feels awful. And it makes us retreat from those whom we should not.
Please know I am not encouraging you to be suspicious of people — far from it. Jesus literally commands us to love our neighbors. It is good, however, to know yourself, prayerfully establishing boundaries beyond which you pledge to seek assistance from others in your relationship with certain people. Getting in too deep in a suffocating situation for which there seems no escape will sour you on future interactions with brothers and sisters who need you, need your friendship, need your goodwill.
You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
Revelation 2:3 NIV
Friends in the church at large, may I now speak briefly to you for a moment? Everyone, and I mean E.V.E.R.Y.O.N.E., in the church needs interaction and care. If you’ve been at the same building on the corner of Street “A” and Avenue “B” for 40 years, passing by the same faces on your way to your pew/modular-seating-appropriate-for-gyms-and-sanctuaries-alike, speak to them for pity’s sake. That old dustup between your aunties at the Great Potluck Fiasco of ’72 is over. Let it die.
Next, make zero assumptions that someone else has spoken to those new faces you don’t recognize. Of course it’s not everyone’s favorite activity to approach a stranger and begin introductions, but if you only knew how much it means to that person you might think it’s worth it. Relentless goodwill, friend. Bust out of that comfort zone. The Kingdom can and will grow because of it.
Our wonderful churches, our sanctuaries of sweet communion with Jesus and celebratory worship, can be places of great desolation if we fail to practice goodwill in our encounters with our co-sojourners in the Kingdom. We are all part of the Body, sweet ones and Humbug-y ones alike. People are hungry for care. Honestly, so are you I’d wager. But of course I’m not a betting woman so never mind. But I’d put down twenty bucks.
It is both possible and biblical to be gracious and running over with goodwill toward those with whom we do not agree in principle along with the like-minded. If, after all this time, you find this categorically impossible, it might not be a bad idea to immerse yourself, surround yourself, with just such people. Practice, as they say, makes perfect. (Remember 24-Hour Fitness? And exercise?) Find a seat smack in the middle of folk you’ve noticed but never approached. Rub shoulders with that person who sits alone week after week. If you’re scared, well, so is everybody else. Follow that helpful hint to silently whisper as you’re about to encounter someone: “Relentless goodwill. Ugh. Relentless goodwill. Ugh. Relentless goodwill.” Eventually the “Ugh” falls away.
Oh and be sweet . . . but not too sweet.
Show Jesus to a lost and dying world. The angels sang praises about doing just that.
Much love, mountains of goodwill, and Merry Christmas from all of us here at Beyond Lashley Lane (heh, just me),
The Angels’ Song
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, GOOD WILL toward men.
Luke 2:8-14 (KJV emphasis added)
P.S. The videos below are for your enjoyment. They are just a wee bit different from one another. Ha! Worship comes in various genres. All have their place. The excerpt from The Messiah is performed by The St. Paul, Minnesota Chamber Orchestra — I could listen to that beauty all day long. It reminds me of college and singing under the direction of Dr. Marvin Stallcop who passed away recently. If you sang for him you can envision his imposing form looming over the choir, his long arms and expressive face communicating love of music and of Jesus. May he rest in peace. I hope these excerpts speak to your spirit as we participate in the joyous season of Advent, the celebration of the birth of our Savior Christ the Lord, the author and perfector of Good Will.