My 6-year-old daughter looks down at the dolly in her hands meditatively. “Jackie likes my things more than she likes me,” she tells her mom sadly.
A show-stopper of a comment. Jackie is her best friend. Her mom and I look at each other. Kaitlyn notices that when her friend comes to the house, she’s often so preoccupied with the dolls and toys that she forgets Kaitlyn is there. She’s hurt. Many parents will relate when I say I felt her pain more acutely than if the pain were my own.
There comes a time when you have to acknowledge the hard truth with your kids: Yes, you should expect your best friend to love you more than anything they can get from you.
I like to think I’ve grown up a bit, but Kaitlyn’s comment made me wonder if people ever say that of me. How much do I use people for my own ends and how many use me? Who have I schmoozed with – at work perhaps – to get something I wanted? Who have I left hanging when his need was so great that I had to turn away, realizing that helping him required an investment of myself that I could never expect to give me a fair return? “Love is its own reward” is often not enough to sway me. The pain and stress that love involves are sometimes more than I can handle. So I walk the path of least resistance in the other direction, assuming the person will get help or get over it, or thinking I’ll just pray for him.
I ease my conscience by reasoning that even Jesus withdrew from the crowds in order to pray on occasion. He didn’t give in to people’s demands to perform like a non-stop spigot of healing water only so they could leave after they got what they wanted and forget about him. But it seems from the record that not many people forgot about Jesus once they really met him.
But why did they follow him in droves? Many may have been initially attracted to him for what they could get out of him, but these people would have been sadly disillusioned when they found out what he was really about. He didn’t exactly offer them a life featured in Western Living magazine.
So why did they, nonetheless, go after him so? There must have been something in the way he healed people. I don’t get a picture from the gospels of Jesus doling out miracles indiscriminately and impersonally. You can read it for yourself, but it seems his words and acts of healing are always very personal. People must have noticed and were attracted by this, beyond the sheer amazement over his miracles. He looked people in the eye; he breathed on them; he touched people, even lepers; he washed people’s feet (if you really want to know what vulnerability feels like, try this with a friend); he took his time, mixing his own saliva with earth elements to make a poultice; and he spoke directly and specifically to their need as if he saw right into their hearts. I think this is what marks Jesus’ brand of love as genuine and of God. Going after him for what one could get out of him would not have the staying power that a personal interest in them would have.
Our tendency, when we meet people, is to silently gage what we might get from the relationship. And when we help people, we often tend to assess them first as a set of needs to be satisfied or problems that need to be fixed, and then determine the payoff. There is little compassion in this. No wonder we feel weary and anxious in well-doing! With this “exchange” approach, either side may get what we want, but the relationship may not have much staying power.
When we see to the heart of a person, and understand love as attending to people first rather than to their needs first, a transformation happens, in ourselves and in the persons we love. And they will come back to us, more likely because of who we are than because of the things we have. It’s not only kids who have to learn this.