Reading one of my favorite online mom journals, Brain, Child, I came across an account of a mom handling a wealth of emotions and fear while her 18 month old baby undergoes a medical procedure. There are many characters in the story, some see this mom, some don’t, and one central character transitions from not seeing her, to seeing her. As a mother of three, I’ve a knee-jerk reaction to cry when I read stories about children undergoing daunting medical procedures; I can truly imagine and empathize with the mom telling her story. As this author relayed her story, I was quickly caught up with her nervousness, fear, and eventual exhaustion. But what got me, what made me ball like a small toddler, were the actions of love, mercy, and grace at the end of the story. While you can read the full story here, I’ll share just the end here:
“And the results of the test?” I ask. “Will we know anything today?”
A grim-faced nurse shakes her head. “They’re reading sixty results a day back there,” she says abruptly. “You’ll get a call from the neurosurgeon.”
The anesthesiologist glances at me and excuses himself. He appears again a moment later with a printout of initial readings from the MRI. Liddy is still crying and it is difficult for me to hear. He holds the paper in front of me and points at the word “Normal” at the bottom of the page.
“Stay here as long as you need,” he says, and squeezes my shoulder.
I sit in a chair holding her as another nurse comes by. This one gently pushes the bed closer and props up my feet. Soon Liddy opens her eyes again, and she is back with us. “Apple sauce?” she asks in a tiny, hoarse voice, mis-remembering the promised juice, and the nurse and I share a smile.
She brings the apple juice for Liddy and also ginger ale with a straw. “Something for Mom,” she says. A small, caring gesture that tells me I’m her patient, too.
Sometimes it’s just the little things that make all the difference. Often times when we think and talk about loving our neighbor as ourselves, the conversation (both internal and external) will veer in the direction of radical acts to serve people who are hungry and homeless, the community around us, or the greater needs of those who are suffering world wide. I will be clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this discussion or with these acts. These acts are noble, good-fruit-from-a-good-tree type of acts, acts worthy of the recognition they deserve but do not always procure. But this conversation is only one part of the conversation in the multifaceted conversation about loving your neighbor as yourself. If we limit the conversation to these grand acts then most of us will throw up our hands in despair: I’ve three kids! I’ve a demanding job! When can I volunteer…feed…help… At least that’s the train of thought that goes through my head.
While I don’t want to take away that aspect of the conversation about loving your neighbor as yourself, I would like to add another piece or dimension to it. Loving your neighbor as yourself is drenched in the language of love, mercy, and grace. But not love, mercy, and grace formulated from an abstracted idea that has no grounding in reality, but the love, mercy, and grace we receive by faith in Christ. All of our activity toward our neighbor stems from the activity of Christ toward us; His work for and toward us is the fundamental system coursing through our bodies and souls and minds and strength producing the beautiful fruit that is love, mercy, and grace for and toward our neighbors. We don’t have to muster it up, try real hard to grow it, or worry that the fruit will never be there because He is faithful and what He’s started He’ll finish (Phil 1:6).
And it’s not merely Christ’s work for and toward us (as if that wasn’t enough) that produces the fruit of love, mercy, and grace; it’s also that He has done something to us through this activity for and toward us. We are brought to death by the word of the Law and brought to life (given new life, created anew) through the word of the Gospel. In this new life, we are given new eyes to see, new ears to hear, a new heart to feel, and a whole new set of words to speak. Not only do we see, hear, feel, and speak of God anew, we also see, hear, feel, and speak of our neighbor anew. In this new creation status, I see you, hear you, empathize with you, and speak to you like I’ve never done before. I see you, with my new eyes, as a broken human being; with my new ears, I can listen to you, really listen; with my new heart, I can feel your pain or your joy as my own; with my new words, I can speak to you words of life and not of death.
And all of this change in me—wrought by the Holy Spirit—culminates in the ripened fruit that are the acts of love, mercy, and grace. Sometimes the fruit looks big: major work to take care of those people who are in need and want, forgiving someone who has taken the life of someone you love, or receiving back the spouse that wandered into the arms of someone else (to mention a few examples). But more often than not, the fruit looks a lot smaller: giving someone space and time to rest, going a bit out of one’s way, or offering a simple can of soda. The beauty of the fruit of love, mercy, and grace is that while the fruit appears to us as big or small, the effects of that fruit are all the same: extraordinary; someone has been seen and loved.