As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.
Last week, I had two conversations about the same topic with two different people. It struck me how vastly different those conversations went.
In the first conversation, I described to a trusted friend a challenge I was really struggling with. She listened carefully and then, with great compassion, asked me how she could walk beside me in this challenge. In her one question, I felt listened to, cared for, and not alone—and our conversation continued for quite a while.
In the second conversation, I described the same challenge to another close person. She talked with me back and forth, then neatly pulled the conversation to a close by reminding me of a Bible verse about how God brings all things together for our good. I got the message that, really, there was little need for me to be concerned. While it was a serious problem, I left that tidily ended conversation feeling alone and even like it might be non-Biblical for me to be concerned or to try to find a solution.
While God does indeed bring all things together for good, either here or in Heaven, the friend who was willing to do the harder work of walking alongside me was a more genuine reflection of Christ’s love.
Sharing the Word of God with someone in pain is, of course, valuable—but if we do it solely as a method to escape from truly listening, walking alongside, or loving that person, we abuse God’s holy Word.
And it leads me to reflect on how often I genuinely listen to the people God brings across my path and lovingly walk beside them in life’s ups and downs versus how often I extricate myself from that not-easy task. How often am I genuinely willing to walk through the messy or hard aspects of life with another?
The thing is, when we avoid walking with others in the messy aspects of their lives, we veer into the dangerous and precarious territory described in 1 Corinthians 13:1: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”
Being a non-loving and clanging gong to the people around us who are in deep need is contrary to Jesus’ calling in John 13:34, which says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
To follow Christ is not about rigid rule following. It is about resting in, and following in, the example of his love for us.
When we don’t walk beside others with deep love through all the ups and downs of life, we make a mockery of Jesus’ holy calling to Christians to love one another.
However, what exactly is love? What does it mean to walk beside another in the messy, painful, awkward, or challenging aspects of life?
To answer this, my pastor, Andrew Aukema, encouraged me to consider the smallest word in that verse in John 13, the word “as.” He pointed out that Jesus’ words are not just “I have loved you” but “as I have loved you.” And it is this tiny word that signifies everything about how we are to love one another.
You see, as Pastor Andrew helped me understand, the key takeaway is to consider that Jesus gave this new command of love immediately after he had washed his disciples’ feet, as described in John 13:3-14.
In that culture and in those days, when people wore sandals to walk everywhere, foot washing was a critical task prior to sharing a meal. It was considered the work of the lowliest of servants.
Jesus deliberately and intentionally took on a role of great humility and service as he showed love to his disciples in the very practical and compelling way of washing their dirty, filthy, tired feet.
Later, the Apostle Paul would further elaborate on how we are to emulate Jesus’ servanthood in Philippians 2:5-7: In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
It’s rarely an easy endeavor to be a servant to those around us who are hurting, struggling, or facing challenges. But if we genuinely want to love like Christ, servanthood is the path we are called to take. It begins with the simple things in life, such as asking the question, “My friend, how can I walk beside you?”