Sunday mornings can be one of the most hectic times of the week for families with children. Getting everyone up, fed, dressed, and out the door feels like a Herculean task—one of those things that can be accomplished only through prayer and fasting. So every time I see a family walk through a sanctuary door, I can’t help but be proud of them because I remember that season and everything it required of me as a wife and mother.
A few weeks ago we were sitting next to a family with two small children, a boy and girl both under the age of 5. They slipped in after the service began and sat down, trying their best not to draw attention to themselves. Mom had brought a few toys for each child and even thought to bring a blanket to cover the wooden pew and keep everything from making too much racket.
She watched them throughout the service, dividing her attention between worship and managing their activities. She flinched every time things were a little too loud for her liking, and I witnessed her hold each child in turn when they became fussy, speaking to them sweetly and kissing the tops of their heads. It was a marvel of multitasking to be sure, but somehow, she did it. Yet the entire experience clearly left her rather wrung out.
As she was packing up, I leaned over to gather a few toys that were beyond her reach and handed them to her. We then folded up the blanket, making it small enough to fit into her carryall. We did all this wordlessly, two women performing a task that needed doing with skill and efficiency, but I felt compelled to say something before we parted ways. Patting her hand, I looked her in the eye and said, “I see you, Mama.” I wanted her to know that, far from judging her for all the ways she might have failed, someone had noticed all that hard work and believed she’d done an excellent job.
I looked her in the eye and said, “I see you, Mama.” I wanted her to know that, far from judging her for all the ways she might have failed, someone had noticed all that hard work and believed she’d done an excellent job.
The effect was instantaneous. Her shoulders and face relaxed noticeably, and she took a deep cleansing breath. She even managed a small smile as she said, “Thank you.” The moment was brief. Before we could say anything else to one another, the children began pulling at her skirt, saying something about wanting donuts in the fellowship hall, and they left together—a happy, twirling mass of curly hair and untucked shirts.
In our latest resource, Fully Human: 21 Days to Flourishing Relationships, Dr. Stanley writes, “How well we love, listen to, and sacrifice for others may vary in degree, but it shouldn’t be limited to those closest to us. How often does the course of our day change because of a kind word, small sacrifice, or friendly smile from another person? We can offer that same grace to everyone around us—from a passerby on the sidewalk to the people we spend most of our time with.”
There have been many moments when I was the recipient of such acts of kindness: encouraging words from fellow teachers when I wanted to leave the classroom forever; heartfelt condolences and home-cooked meals from church friends when my grandfather died; and even a compliment from a stranger who told me I looked beautiful on a day when I felt anything but. Proverbs 17:22 tells us, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.” I’ve experienced both extremes and am certain that when people loved me well through words and actions, my joyful heart was restored. Their gentleness and thoughtfulness changed everything. Because of them, I understand how essential we are to one another’s survival, and my eyes are always open. I want to be that person for someone else. I need to show compassion as much as others need to receive it (if not more so).
“How often does the course of our day change because of a kind word, small sacrifice, or friendly smile from another person? We can offer that same grace to everyone around us—from a passerby on the sidewalk to the people we spend most of our time with.”
Those four simple words on Sunday morning cost me nothing, but I could tell they meant a great deal to her—a fellow pilgrim on the Way who, like me, is walking in God’s light, truth, and love as best she knows how (Acts 9:2; 1 John 1:5; 2 John 1:4-5). In his sermon “Christian Friendship,” Dr. Stanley says, “God not only made us for Himself, but He made us for each other. He made us to need one another. He made us to cooperate and to fellowship one with the other.” Together, that young mother and I, for the briefest of moments, were in community demonstrating love for one another.
If that isn’t grace, I don’t know what is.