I do not want to go down the path I have been on for a while, but simply want to highlight a characteristic that I have noticed in the church. We know that the Apostle Paul stated that he 'gloried in his weakness'. We know that in Romans 14 he encourages us to 'prefer the weaker brother' yet it doesn't seem to me that WE, I include myself in this, do this very well. We really like winners, we love 'success stories'; we like the strong, we only like hearing of failure in the aftermath of it, once someone is on the other side of failure and are reporting it as a past event. But embracing people, who have failed or never really succeeded, is something we don't really do.
In thinking about it for myself, I have thought of the challenge of loving someone who isn't winning, isn't overcoming, and doesn't have it together; it's not an easy thing to do. If I think about people I know who have been very successful, admired, well-liked, popular, all the good stuff, then they fail, and it is absolutely amazing to see how quickly all their admirers peel away. They no longer call. They no longer return phone calls. They no longer extend invitations to fellowship or just hang out, and it is really something.
I want to be the kind of person who sticks with someone who is no longer popular, or in good standing. I want to stay in contact with my friends throughout the ups and downs of their lives. That has been one of the great things about the Internet; so many people have contacted me and expressed encouragement and love. I have people contact me thanking me for things from the 70's and 80's and beyond; it is really nice and a great source of pleasure for me. Not just receiving encouragement, but being able to give it as well; sometimes just staying in contact, sometimes hearing of someone going through a tough patch and just letting them know I am thinking of them and praying for them. Sometimes I haven't met them, but I know of them through their ministry and they have impacted me.
Hopefully people don't get callous to this sort of thing. I know it always blesses me that someone would reach out to me now that I am not 'somebody'...don't worry I don't feel that or believe that today, but I know it's the way it works. I guess this comes back to the issues related to friendship and relationships that reflect a heart of compassion and true empathy. I just know experiencing it and watching others experience it causes me to doubt just how much we really 'glory in weakness', or how we see others as something other than 'the weaker brethren'. What is it in us as individuals and as communities of faith that allows for this sort of behavior? Embracing others in strength and success and then jettisoning when people fail to meet our expectations. It's almost as if a person ceases to exist if they no longer are visible or popular. I think that's a very sad thing.
The only way it will change is if we change as individuals and begin to see those who have been left by the wayside and reach a hand out to them, one person at a time. It certainly isn't going to happen institutionally. When I resigned from a very visible position in ministry, there were a handful of people who remained close and sought to be a support to me, but one guy in particular, apparently made it a point to make sure he contacted me every week for at least a year. He heads a very large growing church, has tons of demands on his schedule and plenty of others responsibilities, yet he called me at least once a week for over a year. I could tell it was a priority for him; it was simple, 'How you doing?' 'Anything we can do for you?' 'Hang in there, buddy, we love you.' And you know what? I believed him, and it was a wonderful lesson. That's the kind of thing I'm encouraging us to do. Don't let fear or discomfort keep you from doing this.
It's easy to love the lovable...(Luke 6) not so much the weak or even ungrateful.