My friend, Chris, once told me that you can do a lot without being ‘busy.’ How? By focusing on each task as you did it as if it were the only one you were doing that day.
This African parable reminds me of his theory: that one’s perspective determines how one perceives their life.
A man came to the tent of a tribal elder asking for a divorce. The man complained that he could not take it anymore. His hut was loud and chaotic with all of the children and he needed out. The elder said he would grant the man a divorce if he would try a few things before going through with it. The man was desperate and would try anything if it would get him the divorce and the peace he sought.
The first thing the elder wanted the man to do was to bring a goat into the hut to live among them. The man acquiesced, though he did not see how this would help, and agreed to try it for a week.
At the end of the week the man returned claiming that the goat had only made things more chaotic than before. ‘Hmmm,’ said the elder, ‘Why don’t we try some chickens this week.’ The man was desperate for the divorce, so he went home and shooed the chickens into his home where the goat and the rest of his family were living. At the end of this week the man returned to the elder stating that this was even worse!
The elder than told the man to try one more thing. A donkey in the home might just do the trick. So the man went home and the donkey moved in. Again he returned, and again the man stated that the additional animal had only made things worse.
This went on for quite some time, until finally the elder sighed and said, ‘I am out of ideas, and you are out of animals. Let them all out and then return to me next week for your divorce.’
Weeks past, and the man did not return. After much time had gone by the elder came to check up on the man. He asked if he still wanted the divorce. The man said ‘no.’ Apparently after all of the animals were returned to their proper places the house became quite and peaceful, and the man quite liked it there!
The other story is one I remind myself of when I am tempted to judge someone without knowing much about them. It reminds me to have grace.
A man was on an airplane with his four children. During the flight the children were obnoxious. They refused to sit still, went to the restroom multiple times and were generally loud and disruptive, yelling back and forth to each other and passing things over the other passengers. Their father just sat there, unmoving, seeming not to notice the chaos around him. Finally one of the passengers gained his attention and demanded that he get his children to behave. His response, “I’m sorry, you see their mother just died and we are on our way to meet her body and take her home. They usually don’t behave this way, but I guess I have been so out of sorts that I have not been paying them the attention I should…”
(This one always makes me cry!)
The truth is we don’t know where people have come from and what has happened in their lives. Today I explained to my girls why taking young ladies into our home who have just been saved from sex trafficking would not be the ‘best’ plan, and that this is why the shelters are important. Many are not ready for the love of a ‘normal’ home (if there is such a thing) and might be overwhelmed and bolt, heading back to the life they once knew. This is why there are people who specialize in helping these girls. Not that I did not want to take these girls and give them a home as well. But I have learned that there is a better way, and that some times good things are scary when someone has learned not to trust. You have to understand their situation if you truly want to help.
This story also touches my own life. We adopted children when they were older and then moved to a new church. Because we seemed like a family they did not want, some people attempted to pray us out of the church. (Why they would tell me this later is beyond me. I know they thought it would somehow make me feel good that we had ‘improved’ so much, but really?) The people who did this did not know our story, and assumed what they saw today would be the reality of tomorrow. There was no room for grace, and no thought of helping us ‘improve.’
The truth is we don’t know what someone has walked through, or what it would take to get them to a better place in life unless we ask. There is no need to condone sin, we just need to get the facts and be educated enough in their issues to know how to help appropriately. Yes it is hard, and it does take time. But isn’t coming along beside someone what we are called to do? You can’t do that by making quick assumptions and trying to run people you consider ‘unfit’ for your company off. Will everyone accept your help? No. My adopted children have pulled away at times, and decided to do things I did not find acceptable. But you can try. Even if you only help a little, it is better than not at all. Help given inappropriately, with judgment or thoughts that we are the ‘better’ people trying to help the unworthy- that is what wounds and makes things worse.