This week I took Adeline with me to register the girls for swim lessons at the YMCA. Well, upon arriving to do so I was a little put off by the lack of information provided. I suppose on could say that I clearly expressed my frustration and disappointment to the girl behind the counter. You know, my annoyance with driving 15 minutes with a 3-year old to accomplish, well, nothing?! So as we walked to the car, Adeline asked why she couldn’t go see the pool. I told her that I wasn’t sure if we were going to be able to take swim lessons because they didn’t seem too organized and I didn’t have enough information yet.
“Awh! Mom! But I want to take swim lessons,” she said wining in disappointment.
“Me too, I want you to take swim lessons also. But I can’t promise it just yet. Sorry, I know it is hard to understand. Mommy is not happy about it either,” I explained.
So we hopped into the car and pulled out of the parking lot. As I was turning onto the street that would take us back towards home, from the backseat of the car a sweet voice spoke, “Mommy, I want to make them a card.”
Now, I thought to myself, what is this kid talking about? Well, I guess she isn’t all that bothered by the swim lesson thing because she has already moved on to the idea of making cards for Nana and Poppop, or the Tias, or a friend.
My train of thought must have been going on too long because the same sweet little voice interrupted it,
“Mom, I said I want to make them a card.”
Okay, I will bite.
“Who do you want to make a card for honey?” I questioned her.
“Them! (a little irritated that I wasn’t getting it) The swim lesson people,” Adeline schooled me.
Insert heart melting and explosion of guilt all at one time.
So I swallowed, my pride and shame, since my three-year old had just shown me up in this scenario. Then I asked her why she wanted to make them a card. And the next part speaks so deeply to the very identify of God in her, evidence of the divine Image, when she said the following:
“Because they would like that. Don’t you think they would like a card?”
Tears in eyes, I placed my hand over my heart and sighed deeply.
“Yes, Adeline, yes I do. They would love a card from you. Who wouldn’t?”
I had no words for her. She had spoken such wise words for a little girl who wears princess dresses and engages in silly sister play. Unbeknownst to her, she was pointing out my missed opportunity to be kind as well as my poor reaction to disappointing, frustrating news. She had so innocently distinguished between my not so loving reaction to the situation and her very kind one. Not that I went crazy yelling or anything, but at the very least I was slightly impatient and not all that kind. Adeline was the one thinking about the other, and considering them.
Remember the simplest, yet hardest, two-part commandment Jesus gives us?
Picture the scene. Jesus is teaching and the Pharisees had been trying to trip him up for days in regards to hot topics like paying taxes to Caesar. When they learned of how he hushed the Sadducees (religious leaders who say there is no resurrection from the dead) they tried again to make him look like a fool (Matthew 22). One of the experts on the law took the lead in it all as he asked,
36 “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”
37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
Love your neighbor . . . as yourself. Simple? Maybe not so much. Easy? Definitely not so much.
At the YMCA a couple days ago I missed a chance to love someone who wasn’t easy to love. Someone who disappointed this busy working Mama, wasted my time, and let my little girl down. It wasn’t the end of the world. I wasn’t rude to her. I didn’t yell at her. But I subtly made it known that I was frustrated. And truthfully, I did not demonstrate kindness.
But my daughter did. Something in her little three-year old self, wanted to do something nice for the very people who let her down. She didn’t say they are silly or mean, or even unorganized (like her mother did). On the contrary, she expressed a desire to do something nice for them for the simple reason that they would like it.
Not because they deserved it. Not because they expected it. And not because they did anything nice for her. But simply because she wanted to make them happy. She wanted them to feel loved.
So if the idea of Imago Dei (God’s image) confuses you. If you can’t quite grasp it all the time. If you wonder how a perfect and loving God is reflected in us. Well just pause and look for a moment like this one: when a three-year old outdoes her seminary trained Pastor-Mom when it comes to loving her neighbor.
Remembering that our neighbor is always the person we find hardest to love. Sometimes it is technically our neighbor who keeps us up late with a loud party. Other times it is our best friend or family member who we are in relationship with already. Then there are times it is the person sitting next to us at church, serving on the same ministry team as us.
But more likely our neighbor is the person who cuts us off on the road or holds up the line at the grocery store because they forgot an item and have to run back to get it; the one who messes up our pizza order and yes the one who is rude to us for no particular reason. And of course there is the one who frustrates us behind the counter at the YMCA because they don’t have the information so desperately sought after at that exact moment.
If loving our neighbor was easy, I doubt it would be part of the most important commandment. How often do we need to be “commanded” to do things that are easy for us? Isn’t it usually that we are commanded to do the things that don’t come so naturally for us?
For some reason in our car as we pulled away from the YMCA, I didn’t have to command my daughter to be kind. Or to think about someone else before herself. To be thoughtful, loving, and compassion. Her silly little three-year old self just did it. Her question has stuck with me.
Don’t you think they would like a card? (even though they don’t deserve it)
Let me translate this into a context anyone of us may face today. Don’t you think they would like to be treated with respect (even though they don’t deserve it)? Don’t you think they would prefer a wave over another hand gesture? (even though they don’t deserve it) Don’t you think they would like you to say hi and ask how they are doing? (even though . . .) Don’t you think they would like your patience instead of your frustration? (even . . .) Don’t you think they would like to be told something positive instead of hear another complaint? (because it is not about what we deserve)
Being outdone by my three-year old is never fun. But admittedly it happens more than I might like it to. Then again, it probably teaches me more than any commentary on Scripture, sermon preached, or adult conversation had.
Ouch! That is the first word that came to mind when Adeline schooled me on “loving your neighbor” a few days ago as I drove away from the YMCA.
The next words: Thank you Jesus! I see you right now, right here, in my little girl.