“We are here to love. And the enemy of love is self-consciousness.” —Tom Jackson
Here at Renovaré we are getting pretty excited about what we’ve taken to calling the “Richard Foster 75th Birthday Experiment.” If you’re a regular reader, you may remember from a couple weeks ago that Renovaré’s founder Richard Foster is turning 75 this spring, and his grand hope is to start a movement of compassion by encouraging birthday well-wishers to take $75 or 75 minutes of time and give it to someone in need. We’re asking folks who participate to call a toll-free line and tell us the story of whom they helped, how it went, and anything they may have learned from this experiment. The number to call is 1-844-RENEW88.
Perhaps you are eager to take part, but are having a hard time knowing where to start. The most difficult aspect of this experiment may be to shed the sense of self-consciousness that is sometimes a barrier to our more Christlike instincts. If you’ve ever struggled to step out in love because of self-consciousness, we’re sharing a piece from Carolyn Arends’s (Renovaré’s Director of Education) book Wrestling with Angels to encourage you today.
We’d love to hear your stories and hope you’ll call and share them with us: 1-844-RENEW88.
A while ago I found myself standing in an exceedingly long line at the LA airport. From my vantage point I could not even see the ticket counter. An impatient throng of perspiring travelers stood between me and my flight, and the line was barely moving. Every five minutes or so, we would collectively inch forward like an extremely lethargic snake, and I would have to wrestle and kick my cumbersome luggage ever-so-slightly ahead.
Behind me was a man in a fresh tan, Bermuda shorts, and a “Belize” T-shirt. He was swearing with considerable skill—combining cuss words into inventive phrases I had not previously heard, cursing God as if He was the one running the airline. He was frustrated that there were not more agents working at the counter, furious at the lack of service on his previous flight, and, right at the moment, incensed at the world. I nodded sympathetically a few times, but I mostly tried to keep my head down and stay out of his way.
In my efforts to avoid making eye contact with the man (I learned from the Nature Channel never to return the stare of an enraged predator), I was gazing absently in the general direction of the escalators. Gradually, a woman began to come into focus. She was wearing a crisp, white dress and cap that resembled an old-fashioned nurse’s uniform, except that there were red-and-gold military-like embellishments on the shoulders. Her dark hair was swept up in an immaculate bun. She looked weary but not drawn, and though she may have been fifty her almond skin was stretched smoothly across her broad face. Every few minutes she would shift her weight from one orthopedic shoe to the other—it appeared as though she’d been standing there a while. In front of her was a donation ball, similar to the ones the Salvation Army hauls out at Christmas time, and it contained a rather pitiful quantity of loose change. She was holding a sign that read: Support missions and drug rehabilitations centers. … Say “no” to drugs, say “yes” to Jesus.
As people streamed by to get off and on the elevators, she would look directly at them and speak very gently in either English or Spanish, depending on their apparent nationality. Hardly anyone returned her gaze or even acknowledged she was there. She did not appear discouraged, but I was moved with compassion for her. I would not want to be the one standing in her sensible shoes.
I pulled a few dollars from my wallet, but something kept me from walking over to her. I wondered if she really represented a nonprofit agency—there were occasional announcements over the loudspeaker warning airport patrons not to give money to unauthorized solicitors. But there was an official LAX identification badge clipped onto her right sleeve, complete with photograph. And airport security personnel were passing by her with no apparent concerns. I decided she was probably there on behalf of a legitimate organization.
But I still didn’t go over to her, and I am embarrassed to admit now it was because I was afraid of what the man in the sweaty Belize T-shirt would think. No doubt he would be disgusted at my naiveté, skeptical that a donation would do anything other than encourage the panhandler problem in Los Angeles. The mood he was in, he might even say something about it, and I would be mortified. I was annoyed at my own timidity, but I was on the final leg of a long journey, and I really wasn’t up for any sort of tense confrontation. So I stuffed the money in my pocket, and I told myself that if there was time I would go back to the escalators and make a donation after I’d checked in for my flight.
I’d been smiling at the lady occasionally, but now I felt a little too ashamed to meet her eyes. I was also still trying to avoid the stare of the man behind me, so I pretty much had no option but to look at my feet. The line continued to crawl forward, and as we snaked past the lady with the sign, I reprised my interior debate one more time. Come on, I scolded myself. Where’s your spine? Before I could determine the answer to my question, something rather unexpected happened. The angry man behind me stepped out of the line, walked over to the woman, handed her a nice little bundle of bills, and said with a sympathetic smile, “Take it easy.”
I felt extraordinarily foolish; a hot blush was creeping across my face. Great, I thought, now when I donate he’s going to think I’m just copying him. This, of course, was a new height of stupidity, which I recognized instantly, thank goodness. I went over to the woman, and I dug the money out of my pocket and gave it to her. As she thanked me she looked directly into my eyes in a way that made me feel she knew entirely too much about me. “God bless you,” she said.
I think I remember that moment so distinctly because it reminded me of who I am meant to be. If I would go with the purer instincts of my heart, I would give whatever I could whenever I could, whether it made a lot of sense or not. If I would listen to the better angels of my nature, I would meet the gaze of the lady by the escalators, and, for that matter, the hungover guy on the street and the frustrated traveler standing next to me in line. I would be the first to say, “God bless you,” instead of the last. That’s the sort of life I was meant to have, the existence I will be most happy living. But to have that life, I have to give up some of the things that characterize my life now—the concern over what other people will think, the self-protective cautiousness, the reserve that keeps me from being fully engaged. Quite frankly, I have to get over myself in order to find myself.
Whoever finds his life will lose it, Jesus said, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. He was no doubt expressing the secret of eternal life—in some mysterious way we are to actually die with Christ in order to share in His resurrection. But Jesus had a way of saying things that are true in an infinite number of directions and applications, and His words also expose the secrets to living the kind of life most of us want to have here on earth. Lose your life to find it. Get over yourself. Live every day like it’s your last. Hold nothing back. And, for heaven’s sake, try not to go through airports staring at your feet.
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