Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting one another, but encouraging each other.
As I was sifting through some Facebook posts yesterday, I saw one that caught my attention. It was a meme with the simple phrase, "I'd like to see myself from someone else's point-of-view." I found myself thinking about all the times in my life that others have poured positive perspectives into me. I thought about moments when family, friends, students, co-workers, and even strangers have shared with me their images of me, things I couldn't see on my own but was so grateful someone else could. In those moments where people took the time to encourage me, I walked away feeling stronger, more capable, and more confident in my talents and in who I am as a person. People who choose to see good in me help me see good in myself.
Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. Working with middle-schoolers whose life goals are to push the boundaries of societal expectations in all they do (including using manners) can be a complete nightmare. Any bad day is amplified by the number of children in each class whose deepest desires are to point out your every flaw. If you are in a bad mood, they will tell you just how grumpy you are and that you probably should take some medicine. If you are having a bad hair day, they might say something sweet to you like, "What happened to you?! It looks like your hair got chopped up by a lawnmower!" If you make them close their mouths, they love to open them again to tell you that you are no longer their favorite teacher, and heaven forbid you gain a pound because they will all come up to you and announce in front of their friends that you look pregnant. What I've noticed in each and every one of these moments is that even though I know these little humans are just pre-teens whose opinions about me should hold no weight, their words hurt, and I end the day feeling discouraged, stressed out, and irritated. My students' disapproving thoughts can transform my perspective from one of victory to one of defeat.
I shared all of that to remind us of this one simple truth: the way you choose to look at others matters. Your thoughts of others influence your actions toward them and your words about them. Sometimes people do not make it easy for us to think good things about them. They're rude, short, arrogant, hateful...they (gasp) have bad days. They make mistakes. They let their emotions control their actions...probably just like you've done before. (I know I have, anyway.) Here's the truth of the matter, though: when God looks at you and me, and He sees the mistakes we've made, He doesn't view us as worthless people who deserve to feel bad about ourselves. He doesn't whisper in our ears that we are horrible, ugly people. He doesn't make us feel discouraged or depressed. Instead, our Father looks on us with love, reminds us that Christ's sacrifice covers all, and welcomes us into His arms where He calms and comforts us.
God gives us all incredibly personal examples of how to treat others with love and compassion, yet sometimes we are so blinded by negativity, we completely forget that He expects us to use those examples to care for others. None of us get it right every single day. All of us need God's mercy, His grace, and a million second chances, and all of us need love, encouragement, and support from each other. This doesn't mean we should all walk around ignoring each others' sins or our own. It simply means that when we find ourselves peering in with an unsavory point-of-view on someone else's life, we should remember how it feels when those same eyes of scrutiny are spying on us. Most of all, we should be more willing to think and talk about others with words covered in the same grace, love, and patience God bestows upon us.
Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, just as Christ has forgiven you. Above all these, put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called into one body.