I never really checked on my Azerbaijani neighbor, Ruslan, all year. He is a Shia Muslim, a man of few words, and he lived without his family, in Kansas, for the entire year. I had excuses like, he probably doesn’t want to talk to women…he wouldn’t want to eat any of my wacked-out paleo concoctions…and I will ask him too many ignorant questions about his country.
In a gesture of generosity, he once left a bag of 5 dying catfish on my doorknob that dripped a pool of blood onto my floor. I thanked him, assured him we would enjoy them, and chalked it up to a cultural miscommunication. I should have returned the favor. With brownies. We always said hello, but I never really reached out to him, revealed true American hospitality, or made sure he didn’t need anything. We just said goodbye forever on Monday, and I felt a tremendous amount of shame for not loving him well during his time here.
What a missed opportunity for both of us.
I’ve been mulling the concept of real love. It’s such an overused and undervalued word loaded with varied meanings! I continually pursue optimal nutrition, fitness, and even spirituality…but I haven’t given extra thought to the concept of love. What is it good for? After all, it’s the second greatest commandment! It’s more than fondness, or admiration, or saying “I am sending good thoughts your way” (or its Christian cousin “I’ll pray for you”).
Love–the kind that impacts lives–has another name: charity. Charity is not a word we use very often in our culture. It seems faceless, institutional, and connotes throwing money at someone else’s problem. But after a brief word study, I can see that charity is simply LOVE in ACTION, altruism. That’s what it is good for.
After my disappointing past year, I’ve been stalled in this area. But I have to be very careful not to let this legitimate hurt turn into the devil’s playground. This hurt–and lingering disappointment–impaired my vision to extend charity to my neighbors; and honestly, I hadn’t consciously recognized it. Until Ruslan left. It hit me that day like a ton of bricks: we are supposed to love well during our disappointing times. That is hard to admit publicly. “If the enemy can take our eye off our brother, then he has completely succeeded in snuffing out our positive influence upon our world” Dr. Larry Crabb, 66 Love Letters.
While I was waiting around to feel whole again, my external influence became stagnant water. Truth is, I will never be whole in this world–too many disappointments. I was living with the mindset that once I am whole, then I will be able to love others well. But in Christ: charity can overflow now, because I WILL be whole again one day…and soon.
The race to achieve self-fulfillment is the religion of our culture, which is like trying hold water in a sieve. What if our culture instead began to practice systematic charity right outside our front doors? Our neighborhoods would burst with vibrance and vitality. And I imagine all of our hearts would be much fuller. Join me in looking out for opportunities to meet a need. It just might be the grace someone needs for their moment.
A few examples of relevant charity:
Encouraging words (Hebrews 3:13, Ephesians 4:29)
Standing in the gap for those who have lost/are separated from loved ones. (Deuteronomy 10:18)
Keeping your schedule fluid enough to be available for people. (Psalms 82:3-4)
Taking initiative to meet others’ needs (Galatians 6:2)
Being a reliable neighbor (bloom where planted)
Offering a patient, listening ear to someone hurting
Sharing possessions (Acts 2:45)
Keeping negative comments quiet (Psalm 141:3)
Welcoming people into your home. (Romans 12:13)
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
1 Corinthians 13:12-13 KJV. I just love this verse in that translation!