Gifts from Strangers

Over the past few weeks following Jane’s heart surgery, our family received many gifts: meals, kind words, help with children, and numerous crafts, toys, and cards that otherwise helped fill our stomachs, alleviate stress, and pass our time.

It is especially humbling and poignant to receive from those we don’t know well. A girl who played soccer for Ed made Jane a blanket to comfort her in the hospital. A couple at our church reached out to inquire how Jane was doing, as they had fasted for her. A neighbor whose children are grown asked if it would be alright if he brought Jane a doll. School friends visited in the hospital and at home, and those we know just as acquaintances brought cards and gifts. On top of this, my siblings and parents have revealed their generosity in thought and deed. Last week, we even received an anonymous gift to help with Christmas.

In pondering those who have reached out to us, I have turned my thoughts back to the giver. Many of the givers were not moved by merely proximity or friendship, but rather a desire to help one in need. What is it in their own life that makes them particularly sensitive to those in pain? What refining is endured in order to obtain gifts of compassion, empathy, or charity for friends and even strangers? These questions have stirred in me compassion of my own as I think about their lives, their pain.

In the case of the anonymous giver, I have found that in seeking the giver I have a new charity within myself. Like the question, “Lord, is it I?” turned outward, I search their faces and wonder, “Are you the giver? Is it you?” I elevate the casual neighbor to a thoughtful and generous friend. I see a sibling as tenderly in touch with our family’s needs. I see a old friend and think, yes, they are good; they would help.

It goes even further. I begin to see the good in those with whom I struggle. I see empathy in the faces of strangers. I struggle to see any as unable to show such charity. In short, I see the face of Christ.

In the essay Jesus=Everyman at By Common Consent, Ronan expresses what it means to see Christ in this way:

Jesus deliberately disguises himself as the Everyman so that we learn that he is every man, or could be… It’s even more radical than that: Jesus is the executed criminal and thus equally the murderer, the thief, the terrorist. If you can love them as you love Jesus — and you cannot tell from their appearance that they are not, in fact Jesus — then you become what Jesus wants you to become: changed. If you’re a Christian, try it. If not, then swap Jesus with someone else you love and admire and would never dream of treating shoddily and apply it to both your friends and enemies.1

Like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus who did not recognize Christ until they ate a meal together, we don’t really know others until we serve them. After we serve, break bread, eat together—then the recognition comes. When we serve—and allow to be served—with a greater degree of intimacy, we see that all have the light of Christ, that all are God’s children, and that all are capable vast and deep love that is charity.

Pilgrims at EmmausPilgrims at Emmaus – Rembrandt van Rijn

“Perhaps the greatest charity comes when we are kind to each other, when we don’t judge or categorize someone else, when we simply give each other the benefit of the doubt or remain quiet. Charity is accepting someone’s differences, weaknesses, and shortcomings; having patience with someone who has let us down; or resisting the impulse to become offended when someone doesn’t handle something the way we might have hoped. Charity is refusing to take advantage of another’s weakness and being willing to forgive someone who has hurt us. Charity is expecting the best of each other.”2—Marvin J. Ashton 

Recommended for further viewing:

Christ on Road to Emmaus – video

Choosing Charity: That God Part

Notes:

1. Jesus=Everyman, bycommonconsent.com, September 22, 2010

2. “The Tongue Can Be a Sharp Sword,” Ensign, May 1992, 19.

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