Renowned psychotherapist and physician Alfred Adler stressed the need to understand individuals within their social context. Calling for compassion and empathy in relating to others, he described empathy as “seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another, and feeling with the heart of another.”
In March 2007, I was standing in an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in northern Uganda gazing at hundreds of young refugees who were staring back at me. As I looked into their eyes, saw their malnourished frames, and witnessed their deplorable living conditions, the Holy Spirit filled me in a way I’d never experienced before. I sensed God was telling me, “I love these children. I love them!” And then, it was as if He extended this invitation: “Come love them with me.”
The idea of immigrants competing with locals for jobs is a political hot potato in many countries. Some citizens resent the newcomers because they perceive them as stealing jobs, competing for scarce services, and causing overcrowding. With unfamiliar customs and languages, the immigrants are sometimes accused of disturbing and even threatening the social fabric of the native born. So how should believers in Jesus respond to the aliens living in their midst?
In my Nigerian boarding school, students loved to indulge in a practical joke. An older student would send an unsuspecting younger one on an errand to get the “rainbow bucket” from another older student. The latter would then ask the young student to get it from another older student. On and on it went until someone took pity on the unsuspecting student and revealed that the bucket didn’t actually exist!
The deluge of rain reduced visibility to almost nil, forcing me and other drivers on the road to inch forward. As my usual twenty-minute commute stretched to well over an hour, I offered up prayers for God’s protection over us as I begged for the rain to cease.
Lilias Trotter had an unusual talent for painting landscapes. Born mid-nineteenth century, she acquired famous artist John Ruskin as a mentor. Ruskin believed her talent could dominate the art world. But as Lily’s art matured, so did her devotion to God. She began frequenting dangerous areas to help women in need, a practice Ruskin discouraged because he felt it kept her from perfecting her artwork. Eventually, Lily decided to spend her life serving others in Algeria.
In the summer of 2016, a two-year-old was snatched by an alligator as he waded into a lagoon at an amusement park resort. His father tried desperately, without success, to rescue the boy from the alligator. A frantic search for the child ensued, but tragically, a few days later, divers recovered the toddler’s lifeless body.
Many years ago, a poor orphan advertised her piano recitals in order to raise funds. Posters boldly declared that she was a pupil of the celebrated Hungarian pianist Franz Liszt—a blatant lie. To her horror, she discovered that Liszt was coming to the village where she was giving the concert. With trepidation she requested an interview with him, sobbed out her confession, and awaited his stern rebuke. Liszt acknowledged that she had been wrong, but recognized her repentance and asked her to play for him. At first she stumbled over her notes, but as she grew in confidence, she played well. He corrected her a few times and said, “My dear, now I have given you a lesson. You are a pupil of Liszt. Go on with your concert and put on the program that the last piece will be played, not by the pupil, but by the master.”
An organization in South Africa began a compassionate project many years ago. The group buys houses in impoverished areas and paints them red. They then hire house parents who live in the red houses, providing beacons of light to the troubled communities. Over the years, these houses have become havens for children at risk and other hurting people in need of a safe place, a hot meal, a listening ear, and a warm hug.
I was once invited to an authors’ party in London. It was a posh affair with caviar and oysters and a private view of a fashion exhibition. Celebrities milled through the crowd and everyone else looked like a celebrity due to their chic fashion sense.
I have a friend who has spent most of his life with people who live on society’s margins: People experiencing poverty or homelessness, those who wrestle with addictions or simply exist outside the mainstream, anyone who might be considered an outcast. “That’s where I seem to fit,” my friend says. “On the edges.” He helps believers in Jesus learn how to be in true friendship with those who are different. “This kind of friendship isn’t as complicated as we like to make it,” my friend insists. “Often it’s as simple as knowing someone’s name and how they like their coffee.”
Picnics are usually a lot of fun, unless you realize— minutes before you leave—that you’re supposed to bring a dish to share! When this happened to me, I quickly put some meat in a pot, cranked up the heat, and left the kitchen to finish other preparations. Several minutes later, I smelled something burning. I ran to the kitchen, but of course it was too late to salvage the burnt offering.
An audition for a singing competition on TV captured my attention. Strumming on a guitar he’d learned to play just a year earlier, a young man named Anderson wowed the judges when he performed his original song, “My Best Friend.”
Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arch communities, has spent his life loving those often ostracized by society. L’Arch creates living communities for those with disabilities or those who, because of their need for intense care, would be institutionalized if they didn’t have such a home. Vanier talks about how the communities are centered around the most basic acts of caring for the physical body—bathing, dressing, and feeding residents who can’t do those things on their own.
I have a confession to make (inhale deeply and hold breath):I’m not a dog person! But here’s another confession. Mywife is training a black Labrador Retriever as a service dog for people with disabilities, and . . . well, Snickers is absolutely the sweetest, most gentle and loving creature in the world—even though she’s so very doggish. You might even venture to say I’ve grown to love her.