Each heart knows its own bitterness,
and no one else can share its joy.—Proverbs 14:10
You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.—Psalm 139:1-3
Do to others as you would have them do to you.—Luke 6:31
Generally speaking, I tend to think that a lot of what you read on social media is fluff and nonsense. I maintain a Facebook account, largely so I can have an easy way to share my Thursday Thoughts. But like a lot of people, I also spend more time than I should scrolling through my feed and seeing what other people have to say about the world around us. It’s fascinating. Among other things, there is a whole lot of empty, false wisdom being shared out there. People love to sound profound, so they post these little statements that seem on the surface to really be saying something. But it’s just human wisdom, not God’s wisdom, and often when you slow down and think about it, you realize that it doesn’t hold water. It’s not universally true, not something you can build your life on, because unlike the Bible it’s not inspired by God’s Holy Spirit.
That being said, there is one statement I‘ve seen shared from time to time that I’ve thought about a lot, and I do think there is a lot of wisdom in it. It’s this: “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind.”
Once a woman asked me a question about something that had obviously been on her mind for a long time. She was a sweet Christian lady, who was trying her hardest to live for Jesus. She was serious about holiness, about avoiding sin as much as she could, and about serving and pleasing God in every area of her life. This was her question: “Can you explain how Jesus could be comfortable spending time around prostitutes? That part of the Bible has always bothered me. I’ve never understood why, if He’s God in the flesh, He would want to be in the presence of all that sin.”
As a pastor, I often pray that God will give me just the right words to respond to people in moments like that. It doesn’t always happen, but this time I believe it did. This is what I told her: “I think part of the answer is that Jesus always knew everyone’s story. The truth is that no little girl grows up wanting to become a prostitute. So, where you and I see a prostitute, Jesus sees a little girl who’s had a really hard life, and that gives Him a lot more compassion for her.”
Every day, you and I encounter people whose lives are not going the way they planned. Maybe they don’t love their job, but they feel trapped because they need the money. Maybe they are having a harder and harder time getting along with their spouse, and they’re afraid of what the future holds. Maybe they were abused as a child. Maybe they’re having a troubling health problem that they’re scared to ask the doctor about. Maybe they’re trapped in a secret addiction that fills them with shame. Maybe they’re just tired because the stresses of their life never seem to let up.
In my position, I am often privileged to know the real story of people’s lives, and I can tell you that the saying is true: everyone you meet is fighting a battle. Charming, successful people battle anxiety and depression. Star athletes contemplate suicide. People in middle age carry burdens of worry about their aging parents and their growing children. As I said in the sermon this past week, no one’s life is easy. In John 21, Peter was jealous of John because He thought John’s path was easier, but none of us knows what it was like to be John. This side of heaven, everyone deals with stress and with loss, with injustice and aging. It’s naïve to think anyone over the age of 12 is walking around without a care in the world.
That being the case, be kind. As Jesus said, treat others the way you would want to be treated. Speaking for myself, I know how I want to be treated: with generous amounts of grace. With kindness when I am tired, with patience when I am short-tempered, with forgiveness when I fail. And so I’m working on treating my wife and children that way, along with people in the church, and the people in my office, and the clerk in the grocery store. Who knows what burden was on that person’s mind before our conversation began? Only God. And if God has compassion for them, I should too.
This week, let me challenge you to do two things: First, tell someone how you’re really doing. Pick someone who you know you can trust, and be honest with them about the burdens you carry. Second, go out of your way to treat someone better than they deserve. Be kind and encouraging to the person who serves you and doesn’t do a very good job. When your spouse is grouchy, respond with love. Let them know that you know life isn’t easy, and you’re rooting for them. May God be glorified among us as we help each other fight our battles.