“Be careful Elizabeth. Not all dogs are friendly. You’ll have to wait until his owner returns to pet him.” I say these instructions as my three year old daughter positions herself to pet the shiny black dog standing as tall as she with a head resembling a pit bull. With whiny words she responds, “But why Mom?”
My husband secures each bike with a tandem trailer to the curved post outside the pharmacy. Our afternoon adventure involves purchasing hygiene items to place in an adult size shoebox. Earlier in the week both my daughters received slips of paper from preschool inviting our family to join their efforts to comfort faceless men at the local homeless shelter.
And without hesitation we, as parents concerned with the spiritual formation of our children, delighted in our “work” to serve others.
We exit the store and encounter the owner of the dog pouring water into a fabric pouch. As we approach him, he opens and loads a pack capable of holding enough supplies to venture in to the back-country for a long period of time. My daughter without hesitation asks “May I pet your dog? Is he friendly? What is his name?” He quietly and kindly responds “He is friendly. You may pet him.”
As she playfully introduces herself to Cinder the dog, I engage the man “I had a yellow Labrador for 14 years. He was my trusty sidekick. I took him everywhere.”
My hope in sharing my story was to break down the barrier dividing us. We could relate to one another through our mutual passion for the companionship of a good dog. Having come from a small community in the mountains of Colorado, I also could relate to using a bicycle as a viable mode of transportation. Too often, to live in the city is to favor large personal vehicles from which we lose real opportunities to show one another how valuable we are.
He unlocked his bike, put on the overstuffed pack and untied Cinder, the dog, from the iron bench. He skillfully rode away without particular concern for the strong dog pulling on him or the heavy load on his back.
I’ve talked to my girls about the importance of helping others in need. We’ve even volunteered to prepare and serve food for women and children at the shelter in downtown Phoenix. But too often the real connection to a person is lost in the experience.
It’s easy to dehumanize the recipient of our care package. What “we” are doing remains more important than the person who is receiving it.
Our simple encounter as a family on this day served to show me how easy it is to get stuck in a particular routine or pattern. From our proverbial “personal vehicle,” we either fail to see people and circumstances as God would or we just miss the opportunity altogether.
We have to change our vantage point.
Jesus maintained God’s vantage point by going off to a quiet place to pray. These moments away gave Him, could give us, the opportunity to see others and circumstances through the Father’s line of sight.
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. – James 3:17
How do we move from the outside looking in to the inside looking up?
- Make every effort to consider the recipient not just the gift even though you may never get to meet them personally. Every person has a story (Mark 12:31).
- Pray for them. They have needs only God can meet (Luke 4:18-19).
- Make every attempt to lay aside pride and self-seeking motivations to place the needs of others above your own (Philippians 2:3-4).
- Let your heart be compassionate full of mercy (Colossians 3:12).
I observe in my own life and the lives of others patterns which routinely prevent us from changing our vantage point.
On this day, three things helped us change our vantage point. First, we chose to make our one mile ride to the store an adventure instead of traveling in our personal vehicle. Our simple decision rattled us out of our routine forcing us to change our posture. Second, the slower tempo brought occasion to see what we otherwise would have zoomed pass. Third, anytime we make occasion to draw near to God in service to His people, He is faithful to draw near to us with His peace, His perspective or His provision.
- What are you zooming pass?
- What perspective are you holding on to that keeps you from experiencing the fullness of Christ in you and ultimately through you?
Written by: Edy Sutherland