December 8: As I Have Loved You, So You Must Love One: An Other

She had a stack of paper plates now from visits to the food table. Probably five trips in all now.

I watched as she emptied a plate of perfectly good candy into the pile of spinach dip, placing the clean, candy-free plate underneath. Maybe she meant to do that?

She proceeded to pluck each piece of candy out of the dip, wiping them off one at a time. The napkin soiled quickly, so her attempts to clean them seemed futile, but she kept wiping the candy anyways. Kept wiping her greasy fingers anyways. Although neither were really clean, she saved the candy in a pile and picked up the dice to roll again. She didn't understand the game we were playing, and she was growing frustrated.

We're on 5's now, I say. Good job! You got one! Now roll the other two. Roll again. Oh, bummer... 

Maybe next time.

And she mumbled to herself. Angry mutterings of a hatred down deep. The heart can't help but bubble to the surface sometimes.

The napkin was full of dip now, but she kept wiping her fingers. She sopped up the remaining dip on her plate and plopped the filthy napkin down on the clean table beside her. Within the next couple rolls she had won, and it was time for her to move on. Piling the candy back on her stack of plates, she picked up her stuff and relocated, leaving her mess behind for the next guest.

She comes to the church events, I'm sure, for the food. I can't say I blame her, because {and let's just be honest here} I've had the same motivation myself at times. But she comes. 

When's the baby due? She asked me. Oh, you already know it's a boy? Oh wow!

I smiled through the awkwardness, laughing even, as we talked a bit.

And as I sat there that night, passing the dice around the table and observing her, I realized that, although I'm quick to exchange pleasantries when I see her, I'm not so quick to engage. To seek her out. To sit down and talk with her. Face to face, human to human. Like she matters.

For many people, "other" is almost always bad and problematical, if not life-threatening. It conveys not just odd but less, not just different but inferior, not just unfamiliar but undesired, not just questionable but unwanted. Then, as we imagine all that cross-cultural distinction, combine it with extreme poverty, no sanitation, no education, no water. What you have is possibly so far beyond the bell curve of what registers as important, valuable or attractive that there is very little for those in the middle of the bell curve to see or care about. {Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor: Seeing Others Through the Eyes of Jesus}

And that's the thing. While it's pretty easy to identify the "other" in our everyday lives, it's an entirely different thing to really see them. To place value on them as a person. Then to convey that value and importance by choosing to engage, however uncomfortable and strange it may be. And yet, God calls us to go one step further: to love.

I desperately want this for my kids. I want them to have eyes not only to identify the other, but to really see them. And not only to see them, but to love them in a tangible way. To seek them out when the rest of the world walks on by. But that has to start with me, for there is no teacher more powerful than example.

What if, in our own lives, we began to look at this very common list of Love One Another scriptures from a slightly different perspective {emphasis and grammatical changes mine}:

A new command I give you: Love one: an other. As I have loved you, so you must love one: an other. {John 13:34} 
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one: an other. {John 13:35 
Be devoted to one: an other, in love. Honor one: an other, above yourselves. {Romans 12:10} 
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one: an other, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. {Romans 13:8}

Sometimes, punctuation changes everything. It's about where in the sentence you place your emphasis. Where you focus. Where you pause, and where you rush on by. 

Everyday, but especially during this holiday season, I'd encourage you to pause for ONE, my friends. To emphasize just ONE. To slow down and see ONE.

An other.

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one: an other, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. {2 Cor. 13:11} 
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one: an other, humbly in love. {Galatians 5:13} 
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one: an other, in love. {Ephesians 4:2}

So the mess of spinach dip on the table was cleaned up. Gifts were exchanged, along with pleasantries. Awkward smiles all around, but the other ladies, like myself, pushed through the conversation to a small glimpse of tangible love on the other side.

When you go to the store, whether it be a mundane trip for groceries or some Christmas shopping, love one: an other. 

Slow down and notice.

When you walk down the street, exercise at the gym, or saunter into your local coffee shop, love one: an other. 

Pause just long enough to engage.

When you sit in church on a normal Sunday during this Advent season, love one: an other.

Even small gestures of love go a long way. 

Sometimes the "other" is the smelly man on the side of the road with a sign. Sometimes it's a single mom beating her child. It's the belligerent customer at the store or the rude manager. Sometimes it's even the person in the church pew next to you who, although they look just like you, directly opposes most everything you believe. It's the person who talked behind about you behind your back or the woman who is more vocal then you deem appropriate. It's the person who refuses to admit they're wrong. The person who's being anything but loving towards you.

It's the adulterer, the murderer, the abuser. The violated, the manipulative, the neglected. 

It's me and you. And Jesus came for us all.

Be the one who not only notices but seeks them out. Convey their inherent value and importance by choosing to engage. Chances are, if you've identified them as "other," the rest of the world has, too, and you may be the only slice of Jesus they've received in a long time. 

Love one: an other. 

May we see others though the eyes of Jesus today.

Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that. {Luke 6:31-33}

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