I was scheduled tomorrow to meet with my professor, the man overseeing my Ph.D. studies. He called this evening wanting to know if I wanted to postpone. “That depends,” said I, “on whether you want to yell at me or not for not getting more of my reading done.”” He, gracious man that he is acknowledged, “You have had a lot on your plate lately.”
This same man, from the time I was a boy, has belabored to me the importance of seeking to judge others charitably. Because there is always a speaker and a hearer, and doer and a receiver, because we are all tempted to put ourselves in the best possible light, it is critical, he explained to me as I grew up, that we put ourselves in the other guy’s shoes, and judge what he has said, or done, with the same compassion and understanding with which we judge ourselves.
Which is precisely what he was doing in noting the fullness of my plate. I teach at Reformation Bible College, which while relatively new, is normal for me. I work for Ligonier Ministries and Highlands Ministries, which is normal for me. I am seeking to raise eight children, from 17 to almost 2, which is normal for me. And my wife is in intensive care, fighting for her life against the brutal enemy leukemia. That, of course, is not normal for me.
As we as a family confront this great challenge one of the immediate challenges we face is seeking to keep our lives as normal as possible. My children still have their studies to tend to. I still have students and co-workers that are counting on me. We have soccer matches, piano lessons, hockey games for the children. I still have papers to grade, errands to run, checkbooks to balance, appointments to keep. And we need to visit my dear wife in the hospital not only because it blesses us and her, but because we may not be able to be with her for long.
My professor, who is, of course, also my father and my boss, is well aware of my circumstances. His compassion, which runs deep in ordinary conditions, is more than sufficient for my circumstance. Others, however, do not know. Others grow impatient because I don’t answer their emails quickly enough, because I am not as attentive to their needs as I might normally be, because I am slower to stop and pass the time of day. These, however, if they knew, I am sure would understand.
Which in turn makes me wonder about what I don’t know. How often have I grown irritated with another who is going through a hardship that would immediately douse my frustration, if I only knew about it? We don’t, rightly so, go through our days wearing signs to warn others- “I have been out of work for nine months;” “My husband prefers images of woman on the computer to me;” “My wife is battling an aggressive leukemia.” Without the signs all we are left with is compassion as the default position. Should we not assume the best, especially of our brothers and sisters in the church? Should we not seek to mirror the compassion of Jesus who would not break a bruised reed?
All of us, quite naturally, call for greater compassion when we are the one going through the hardship. How many of us remember, however, to be slow to become angry, when things are going our way? There is a time to stand, to be bold, to call others to account. And then there is most of the time. My hardship is utterly banal. There is nothing new under the sun. Millions of men have found themselves where I now find myself. One Man, however, showed us how to respond. Pray for my wife. Pray for my children. And pray for me, that I would learn grace.