Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Go the Extra Mile

While I was in the grocery store yesterday, I overheard a young man loudly recapping an altercation he had been involved in earlier.  From what I heard him say, --and I didn't really mean to eavesdrop, but he was “pontificating” in the middle of the long dairy/orange juice/snacks aisle! – I knew he was very proud that he had managed to prove himself to be right and the other person to be wrong. 

It wasn't even his words themselves that first caught my attention; it was his body language, accompanied by his loudness.  Watching his arms waving around and hearing his loud, almost shouting voice, I was sure that winning this verbal battle had been, and still was, very important to him—as was his sense of pride in the victory—he was enjoying his bragging rights.  

As I pushed my shopping cart around him, I wanted to stop and ask him, “Does it really matter?”  “Is winning an argument more important than nourishing and retaining a relationship with a relative or a friend or any other person?”  Today, I don’t think winning is terribly important, but in my childhood, I’m not sure I would have agreed.

Many years ago, when I was five years old, I lived in the North Carolina countryside for six months with my grandmother, a dedicated Christian woman. With no television or radio, our nightly entertainment was usually listening to the adult conversation or hearing her tell Bible stories. I remember when I heard the story in which Jesus charged his followers to go the extra mile, I thought He meant for us to literally walk another 5, 280 feet!!  

At that time, my mother didn't drive, my dad was on an overseas assignment, and we walked everywhere we went unless we rode in my uncle’s car to the Piggly Wiggly in Shelby on Saturday mornings and to Sunday school and church on Sundays.  We usually walked on hot dusty paths through fields to my uncle’s house and on hot dusty roads to a little country store—“a right fer piece away”-- so walking another mile, if I didn't absolutely have to, didn't sound appealing to me at all; as a matter of fact, it sounded like punishment—not what I wanted to do for anyone else.

Now, over sixty years later,  after listening to wonderful, knowledgeable teachers and preachers of the Bible, after combing through commentaries and studying God’s Word before teaching Bible studies myself, I know so much better than that younger self did what it means to go the extra mile.  For me today, going the extra mile for someone means I say I’m sorry after a misunderstanding even if I didn't (or don’t think I did!) cause it. 

Going the extra mile means letting someone else win an argument or a  game if it is so important to him.  

Going the extra mile means showing God’s grace to others in the spirit of God’s love.  Just as God gives His good grace to an undeserving sinner such as I am;  so I am also called  to sacrifice my pride, my selfishness, and other examples of my sinfulness and to give grace to people who, in my limited, narrow-minded, earthly vision, don’t always deserve it.

Many times, I have been that young man in the grocery store, bragging about how I had won an argument with loud, sharp words. Now that I am older, however, I ask God to forgive the foolish person I was years ago.  I ask Him to make my words soft and gracious.  I ask Him to give me a loving spirit that can love others as I want God to love me---unconditionally and sacrificially.  

To do this I must put aside all pomposity and let my life be about loving and serving others, not about crowing over my own hard-headedness and winning arguments.  I pray that my young grocery-store friend will also find peace in treating others justly and mercifully, not angrily and self-righteously.

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