Life is hard.
I grew up thinking it would be a breeze, thanks to all the Disney movies I watched as a kid. I believed in happy endings and dreams come true and that the good guys always win. I thought that high school would be the beginning of the best years of my life, that college was where I would shine, and that I would be launched into success as a career woman living the fast-paced life in NYC. I saw the world as a beautiful, shiny place brimming with possibilities and wonder. I believed only good things would come my way.
Boy, was I in for a rude awakening.
When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. (1 Corinthians 13:11)
The real world first slapped me in the face when I was ten. Kids called me “retard”, made fun of me for being “fat” and having a “pig face”. Every word that came out of my mouth was rejected, twisted, and made fun of. Girls would block seats at their lunch tables so I couldn’t sit with them. The only friends I thought I had suddenly wanted nothing to do with me.
Then in high school, I entered the doors as a bright-eyed fourteen-year-old with dreams of being prom queen and valedictorian. Real life shattered that perception quickly. (If you haven’t yet, read my testimony here.)
Fast-forward to present day: while working yesterday at my job as a cashier, I got an all-too-familiar taste of the real world. A customer became upset because I couldn’t give them a discount on some products that they thought they had a coupon for. Unfortunately, I had already tried to apply the coupon to the order and once it had been used, it couldn’t be used again. They were upset because they felt they’d been “screwed” and proceeded to tell me that I was an idiot for using the coupon before realizing it wouldn’t work. My manager came over and we gave them another coupon, but it didn’t ease their anger. They continued to berate me, and I could do nothing but nod, speak gently about solutions, and take it. Only a few customers later, almost the exact same situation happened again.
Let me tell you: life is hard. A lot of times, it sucks. People are not always nice. People steal from you (I’ve been robbed twice), lie to you and about you. You get cheated. Bad things happen to good people. Like the person whose coupon I accidentally used, you get “screwed” (or at least feel like you do). Things don’t turn out the way you hoped. You get insulted, belittled, and treated like garbage. That’s life in the real world. It isn’t the Disney dream we expected.
After all that happened yesterday, I became nervous and was struggling to keep up with the long checkout line. The customers’ insults had thrown me off, and I was fumbling from stress. Then came in a little old Southern lady (I live in the North, y’all, so her accent was noticeable) who simply wanted to return some items for store credit. I was struggling to tally up the amount I owed her, and I had to keep recounting. Nearly on the verge of tears, I stuttered, “I’m sorry it’s taking so long, ma’am. I just got yelled at by a customer, and I’m really struggling.”
She reached into her purse and pulled out a stick of gum, sliding it to me across the counter. “Maybe this will make it a little better,” she said quietly. “You got all kinds of kinds here, and we can only do the best we can. I’m sorry that happened to you, sweetie. God bless you.”
You guys, I thought God hand sent me an angel in disguise. The way she treated me changed the direction my day was headed in. It was a breath of fresh air in an otherwise typically negative environment. And all it took was some kind words, some patience, some understanding, and a little stick of gum.
I think that’s what being a Christian is all about. Guys, the number of Sundays you spend in church doesn’t make you a Christian. The amount of volunteer work or mission work you do doesn’t make you a Christian. Moving to a third-world country to care for orphans doesn’t make you a Christian. The amount of money you donate doesn’t make you a Christian. Those are all great things, but that’s not what makes you a Christian. Being a Christian means being Christ to others. It’s treating people the way Jesus would. It’s seeing others through His eyes. It’s being His voice, His ears, His eyes, His hands and feet. You don’t have to do huge things to be like Christ. You simply have to do little things with great love.
That little old lady didn’t do anything “great”; but she did do something with great love. She was Jesus to me. She treated me the way He would. She is an example of how we all can be Christians in the real world.
So ask yourself honestly, how do you treat other people? Is an encounter with you an encounter with Christ? You may be the only church some people ever enter. You may be the only Scripture some people ever hear. You don’t need to preach, you just have to be kind. Do small acts of service for others, especially if they’ll go unnoticed. Reach out to those who are hurting or struggling. You don’t have to save them; simply smile and spread some encouragement. Remember that everyone else is only human, too, and they’re all struggling just as much as you are. That’s how we can be Jesus, making the world better one small act of kindness at a time. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you. (Matthew 6:18)
My challenge for you is to go out of your way to do something nice for someone else that isn’t all that great or noble. For me, that usually looks like unloading the dishwasher when no one is around, or not arguing when my mom is roaring about how I did something wrong. Maybe for you, it looks like being patient with a cashier, even when they’re being slow or fumbling to ring you up. Whatever it is, you recognize where you’re weak, where you can serve, and how much this real world needs more Christs in it. So be a reflection of Christ in this crazy, painful real world. Be love.
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and His love is brought to perfection in us. We love because He first loved us. (1 John 4:7-8, 11-12, 19)
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:1-8)
To be a Christian is to be Christ, who is love incarnate. So be love to others. Be Christ to others. For this you have been called.