I saw her as soon as I walked in this morning. I, my computer bag on my shoulder and many plans for my morning on my mind; she, washcloth and tray in hand and the ever present smile on her face.
“Good morning! It’s good to see you!” I say, calling her by name and doing my best to smile back at her. She smiles back and says, “I see YOU!” We begin our daily conversation about how she is and whether or not my phone is a new one. We chat for a moment and then she goes back to her work of cleaning tables. She does it for several hours every weekday morning, and it is a job she clearly treasures and takes very seriously.
You see, she has that certain something special about her that makes her charmingly simple and yet awkwardly different. I don’t claim to know her story or medical history or prognosis. I don’t claim to know much about her at all, and I certainly don’t know the best way to write about her without saying something wrong or offending someone. There is much about her that I don’t know, and I confess, there is a lot about her that I simply have not taken the time or made the effort to find out.
She challenges me. She challenges me to my core and makes me question my values. She makes me examine my heart and wonder how deep my love for Jesus really is. She makes me see myself in a new way – a clear way, unhindered by what I like to think of myself or who I want to think I am. She is a mirror into my soul, and it hurts every time I look.
It hurts because I really, really don’t like what I see of myself when I am face to face with her. As she approaches, I realize how unlike Christ I am. I smile and my face brightens on the outside, but on the inside, I cringe. “I had plans…ideas….an agenda for my day. This isn’t part of it. This isn’t what I need right now,” I think. My confession? Sometimes I hope she doesn’t see me because I just want to sit down and work without the labor of carrying on a difficult conversation.
It’s hard to write those words. I don’t want to make that admission for everyone to read. As I do, though, I imagine that it’s maybe a little bit difficult for you to read them, too. Maybe those words are a mirror into your heart just as she is a mirror into mine. I think we’re all a little bit that way. We live in our own little worlds with our own little plans. All too often, we pray that God would use us….sing desperate choruses in our cars about how we want to be a part of what God is doing in the world….and then, when someone like her crosses our paths, all we can think about is how inconvenient it is.
In theory, we all want to be disciples. When the theoretical becomes the practical, though, looking into our eyes and starting a conversation, we want to run away. We want the easy discipleship that says good intentions are enough. We want the easy Christianity that lets us say what we want in prayer – sing pretty words in worship – and then continue with our own plans for how our days will actually go. Too often, what we really want is to carry the name “Christian” without carrying the burden of challenge and life change.
It’s hard. It hurts. It’s extremely uncomfortable and unpleasant and takes a lot longer than we want it to. This process of being molded anew into the image of Christ…..it’s not an easy one, and it shows us with painful clarity how messed up we really are.
What I realize when I look at her is that when I wear the name of Jesus, much is asked of me. I cannot move blindly through my day with no awareness of or care for the people around me. I cannot just let my schedule absorb me. There is something else that I must do. There is something else that is required of me simply because I made the choice to follow Christ.
I have to love. I have to give of myself in inconvenient and uncomfortable ways. I have to reach deeply into myself….so deeply, in fact, that I reach the bottom and still have not found what I was reaching for. I have to reach and reach and reach until I realize that this life – this life of love and sacrifice and true discipleship – requires something that I simply do not have. It is asking something of me that I cannot do. It is requiring something of me that I cannot give.
I am empty of the things Christ asks of me. Even as He asks those things of me, though, He knows that I cannot do it. He knows that there is nothing in me that can love like He’s asking me to love. He knows that things are required of me that my flesh simply cannot stretch to give. He knows, and He whispers words of assurance into my shameful heart:
You have nothing to give. But I DO.
As I see her walking toward my table, ready to engage in yet another strained conversation, I realize again that I cannot do what is being asked of me. My flesh – my heart – my character….they are woefully inadequate for what lies ahead. What I hear, though, as I come face to face with my own failures, is that for everything I do not have, Christ has more than enough. Everything that I cannot do, Christ can do through me. Everything I am unwilling to do, Christ died to accomplish. Everything that I want to run from, Christ meets with open arms.
I have nothing, but He has everything. It’s available for the taking if I’ll only come clean about my inadequacy and ask Him to supply. And as she approaches my table yet again, I’ll somehow find that I have more than enough love to give.