If you got the chance to read last week’s article, you’ll find that this week unfortunately started out in similar fashion for the Hein family. I woke up at 7:15am on Monday morning to a phone call from my wife saying, “James, I need you to get down here. I’ve been in an accident.” Those are awful words to hear come from your wife’s mouth. I was at least relieved to hear this news coming from her mouth and not from that of a police officer or first response personnel. So, I got dressed, hopped in my car, and headed down highway 52. By this point Adrian had called again and I understood that she, despite being naturally a little shaken up, despite the fire department taking her to the emergency room mostly for precautionary measures, was in pretty good shape all things considered. She didn’t have any cuts or broken bones. She wasn’t knocked unconscious. Her neck was expectedly sore and we got some x-rays taken just to make sure nothing was broken, but she was remarkably unscathed. It was abundantly evident that God’s angels were guarding her as the front, back, and entire passenger side of her car were annihilated.
Due to her phone calls, I had the peace of mind that my wife was alright. If I didn’t have those calls, I can’t tell you how upset I would have been. I’m not even talking about wondering what might have happened to her. That would have been more of apprehension I’m sure. My ire would have been produced at frustration over everyone else on the road. You see, as I was travelling down Highway 52, traffic was backed up worse than it would ever get in Rochester under normal circumstances. It was Monday morning at about 7:30am and people were livid that they were going to be late for work. At one point when I was stuck in the traffic I remember looking around and seeing someone on their cell phone in front of me, in back of me, and on both sides, all clearly upset as they were talking to someone on the phone (I assume they were notifying their work that they’d be late). The saddening part was that this was right under a sign that said “CRASH AHEAD. EXPECT DELAYS.” I can’t imagine how angered I’d be if I knew my wife was in an accident ahead but didn’t have the knowledge that she was okay, and all people around were concerned with was being 10 minutes late for work. What was further frustrating was that people became so impatient that the traffic spilled over into the emergency lane on the right hand side. All I could think was, “If my wife was dying in her car right now and an ambulance couldn’t get to her because of the anxious workers clogging the emergency lane next to me, I’d have trouble forgiving their carelessness.”
Now, as I mentioned, my wife was okay. Her car was totalled. She was the victim of a terrible multi-car accident that ultimately wasn’t her fault. The insurance reports are kind of a pain. It’s frustrating, no doubt. But she was okay. We had a lot to be thankful for.
I couldn’t, however, seem to shake the disgust that I had, however, over the other drivers on the road that day. I’m not talking about those perhaps responsible for the accident. I’m talking about the casual “inconvenienced” observers. I don’t know if I’ll ever forget the looks on some of their faces. Without the ability to see their hearts, my honest evaluation was that their only concern was clearly the delay this accident had caused for them. Now that’s probably an unfair generalization on my part, but from being at a dead stop and getting the chance to look around, it seemed to be obvious. The thought of someone suffering or dying up a mile ahead either hadn’t crossed their minds or simply hadn’t concerned them.
A little perturbed, as I thought about this later in the day, the question crossed my mind, when was the last time my first reaction to being stuck in traffic was “I hope everyone is okay.”? I realized then that I really had no experiential right to point fingers here. I remembered the many, many times I’d been stuck in traffic travelling from home to school and back. At times I’d get stuck in traffic in Chicago for 2+ hours. My concern at that point, truth be told, was probably not primarily for the well-being of those ahead.
Let’s just be honest for a minute – our default position as human beings seems to be one of self-interest. And we’re okay with that. Supposedly this is even one of the tenets that makes a capitalist economy work. Self-interest doesn’t, however, make us “nice people”. Franklin D. Roosevelt, like him or not, was a uniter during a difficult time in our country’s history. He once famously said, “Self-interest is the enemy of all true affection.” Agreed.
There’s one Bible story that leaps out of the pages of Scripture when it comes to the interest of others ahead of self. Although the many examples in Jesus’ life would illustrate the blessing of brotherly love, it was a story that Jesus told about neighborly love that perhaps paints it clearest – The Parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus was prompted to teach this parable as the result of some comments from a clearly misguided young man who was under the impression that he was a “pretty good guy”.
You may know how the story goes. If not, check out (Luke 10:25-37) http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke%2010:25-37&version=NIV. A Jewish man gets mugged on the way down from Jerusalem. He’s beaten, stripped, and robbed. Two church-going Jews (clergy no less!) happen to come by the half-dead victim. They pass by on the other side of the road not wanting to inconvenience themselves with the problems of their Jewish neighbor. Then, a Samaritan, a natural ethnic enemy to the Jews, comes to the victim and shows love, compassion, and mercy to him. He tends to the victim’s wounds, transports him to a nearby inn for recovery, and pays for the man’s stay at the inn, coming back later to check up on him. Self-interest? No way. This was else-interest; God-glorifying interest; Christ-like interest.
There’s a fascinating (almost eerie) similarity that’s been coming up recently for me when I talk to those who haven’t traditionally been church-goers that’s led me to this conclusion: There’s perhaps nothing that turns people off of church or Christianity faster than Christians who don’t act like Christians. The apparent hypocrisy just leaves such a bad taste in the mouth that some people want nothing to do with it. I’m not simply talking about immorality here either. As much or more so it’s the loveless way we Christians sometimes talk about others or the loveless attitude we sometimes project when we’re just more concerned about ourselves than anything or anyone else. It’s interesting that non-believers don’t always understand Christianity, but they often understand what Christianity is not or should not be. And when they see Christians acting in such a way, it only confirms their negative preconceived notions.
The converse is also true though. When non-believers see the love of Christ in our concern for one another and for mankind, they often recognize something special is there. When they hear the message of the most selfless man who’s ever walked the planet, Christ himself, and when they understand he did it because he personally loved them that much, they know why we’re motivated to speak and act in love.
I’m not condemning everyone who was southbound on Highway 52 on Monday morning :). I get it. I’ve been in traffic jams too. I understand how frustrating it gets. I am saying though that I personally have a fresh perspective on what Jesus’ taught about concern for my neighbor. I hope I’ll have a new appreciation for the trouble others may be in ahead of the inconvenience I may experience. And I’ve realized that if I can keep my heart on the cross and my eyes on my neighbors, my mind won’t worry so much about myself.