Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
I did a silly experiment the other day, and it was illuminating. I needed to drive on various roads, about 35 miles in all, to deliver a document. The speed limits on these roads varied from between 25 to 70 miles per hour. I decided to drive the exact speed limit (i.e., obey the law) on every road, and oh my, the trouble I stirred up. I was honked at, shouted at, given the single-digit wave, and a number of drivers thought they could help me do better by riding right on my back bumper. I was the recipient of more anger, hostility, insult, and aggression for simply following the rules than I could comprehend. (Disclaimer: I generally drive close to, but over, posted speed limits. On highways it is not unusual for me to drive closer to 75 than 70 miles per hour. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…)
As I reflected on the responses I received – and they were universal and similar – I wondered what goes on in our hearts and minds when others annoy us, frustrate us, inconvenience us, or just plain tick us off? At most, I delayed people a few minutes. Most were able to pass me after very little delay. When the shoe is on the other foot, I can get exasperated and petulant, but I also realize that of all the things that could go wrong in my life, getting behind a slow driver is pretty minor. And it isn’t cause for a violent or disrespectful assault.
Back when I was young, the song, “Everything is Beautiful (In Its Own Way)” was a popular hit. As a twelve-year-old, I remember thinking, “How would my life be different if I looked at everything as beautiful?” Even then, I realized that there are things that are not beautiful – hate and violence and prejudice and stealing and lying – but I was also able to understand a deeper meaning. If we look at God’s creation as beautiful, especially God’s children, we see something new and different, and we are likely to treat each other better. We can do nasty, terrible, awful things, but that can’t destroy the beauty that God intends. We simply need to begin from a place of looking for beauty. This would lead us to “encourage one another and build each other up,” instead of shouting or honking or obscenely gesturing at one another.
What if the driver in the other car were your spouse or child or grandchild and they did something that annoyed you? For me, I am more tolerant and forgiving of my own family and friends. My challenge is expanding this base and extending the same love, forgiveness, and tolerance to the brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandkids that I haven’t met yet!
I don’t know why reacting negatively seems to be so much easier than responding with positivity and kindness. What I do know is that kindness and love, caring and grace, tolerance and patience is what God expects of us. Selfishness and self-righteousness will never get us where God needs us to be. It would be nice to think that Paul’s coda could be ascribed to us as well – that we are already encouraging and building each other up in love.
Prayer: Wonderful God, we confess that we do not always look at your world, your creation, and your children through the eyes of beauty. Forgive us, and open our eyes to see in new, glorious, and loving ways. Help us to be patient with those who annoy us, kind to those who irritate us, and gentle with those who frustrate us. Help us to model encouragement and support in all that we say and do. Amen.
May this devotion provide you with a moment of faithful reflection and care. You are involved in ministries of justice and witness, in ministries of standing up and standing with people working to create better systems and communities, in ministries of learning and searching and researching to become more aware and awakened, more technologically savvy and proficient, more virtually and personally present in your churches and communities and world. Each of us who serve as members of your Wisconsin Cabinet write these devotions in grateful prayer for you – for sustenance and buoyancy, for strength and courage, for safety and just actions, and for faith and love to be full and fulfilled in your daily lives. God’s grace and blessings, God’s challenge and healthy discomfort, God’s Spirit and energy be with you, in the hope Christ offers us all.