(Editor's note: This is Part 2 in a two-part article on the value of both sharing our stories and listening to the stories of others. See Part 1 here.)
Mother Teresa once said that she “did mathematics differently” than most people. Instead of worrying about ministering to a large number of Indian Hindus, she and her colleagues looked at each individual separately. Her mathematics “considered the one she was loving right now as the total of God’s universe at that moment.”1
Nearing the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus too halted all other duties and obligations to be present with his beloved Mary and Martha as their brother, Lazarus, had passed away four days prior (see John 11). Although Jesus had the power of heaven to raise Lazarus from the dead (and indeed would), it was as though every eye of every angel in heaven was fixed on Jesus as he went to the women and did something quite extraordinary.
Seeing their intense sorrow, “…he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled….Jesus wept. So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’” (John 11:33-35).
At that moment, the Son of Man was pouring out the compassion of heaven on this one family.
We must share the grand narrative of our lives with those who don’t yet know him—the perfect story only our wonderful God can weave together. But we must always and ever first listen, engage, spend time. Without listening to another and being fully present with him or her as though he or she were the most important person in the world at that moment, we are but hot air blowing on dying people in a sun-scorched land.
No matter how powerful our story may be, without the ingredients of empathy, compassion, and uninterrupted thoughts and time, we may well cause more harm than good. Before Jesus healed Lazarus, he stopped.
He listened. He watched. He engaged. He mourned. Then he healed.
Throughout the Gospels we see that each person Jesus encountered was the most important person in the world in that moment. With a sea of humanity desperate for healing and life, over and over Jesus halted all of heaven’s activity to cherish the person he was with.
Similarly, when Mother Teresa engaged in ministry, each was her Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in that moment. She stopped. She engaged. She mourned. Then she did what she could to pour the sum total of the love she had on that one person who had infinite worth in the Kingdom of God.
In Cambodia, a young 22-year-old named Sopheap was dying after a short, torturous life of abandonment and abuse which left her deaf and infected with AIDS. One loving community stopped all they were doing when they heard Sopheap’s story.
They engaged. They mourned. They loved. Then they cared for her as she had never been cared for and loved on her with all the love they had to give.
They spoke of the hope of heaven, and when Sopheap died three days later, “though her brief, brutal life and tragic passing did not garner headlines…every moment of her last three days was front-page news in God’s upside-down kingdom.”2
The author who shares this story goes on to charge us:
In fact, [Sopheap’s] last three days with us could have been seen as a loose thread in a clumsily stitched pilgrimage. There was little glamour in Sopheap’s life….This story reminds me that if we, as the people of God, are going to meet the Sopheaps of this world squarely, as Christ did, we are going to have to reach into the deepest pockets of our souls and pull out more than the loose change of the world’s clichés.3
We must pull out a divinely-inspired, deeply-passionate understanding that each and every person we encounter deserves the sum total of our attention, our love, our comfort, ad infinitum, in that moment.
We must stop. We must listen. We must engage and mourn and weep.
Only then can we have earned the right to share our story.
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…” – Colossians 3:12
1. Adeney, Frances. 2010. Graceful Evangelism: Christian Witness in a Complex World. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 183.
2. Hayes, John B. 2006. Sub-Merge: Living Deep in a Shallow World. Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 287.
3. Ibid, 288.