This morning during my devotional time, I was struck by a couple things in Ephesians 4. First, living a life worthy of calling (v 1). Second, Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love (v 2). Finally, Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ in God forgave you (v 32).
The Church in Ephesus was a unique church (though I suppose you could say that about most any church.) It was a place full of magic and mysticism and Paul appeals to this in his letter.
In the fourth chapter, The first thing Paul writes to the church (churches?) in Ephesus, is to “live a life worthy of the calling you have received”. This hit me because after spending some time in the call process, albeit not as long as some of my peers, I’m starting to wonder what my calling is. Is my calling to specifically serve a church (e.g., an Evangelical Covenant Church, a Lutheran Church, a Methodist Church, etc.) or is it to serve the church (the body of believers)? The way I’m choosing to look at it is that my calling first and foremost is to God; to honor God with my life, my words, my actions, my money, my everything. Eventually, I may be called to a church to serve but I am called to the church and to serve God…not to earn a paycheck (though those are nice).
I currently work in Juvenile detention (jail) with kids anywhere from 12-19 who are potentially in for anything from possession charges/probation violation to murder. Naturally, the detention center has some pretty strict rules for these clients (e.g., turn in your empty toilette paper roll, no talking to other clients from inside your room, ask to step in to/out of hallways, etc.)These rules are for the safety of the clients and for the safety of the staff, but every so often a client does not appreciate them and will use so many swear words that I have no idea what they’re actually trying to say. In these moments I find it extremely difficult to be ‘humble and gentle; patient and bearing with each other in love’ like Paul instructs us. I’ve lost track the number of times I’ve been called an asshole, a fat-ass (or worse) or have been told to ‘get the f* out of my room’. IN these moments, I want to give up on the kid…so…badly. I know, though, that these kids are in a vulnerable place, with strangers who are giving them rules and structure that they may have never had before. They’re not mad at me, Travis; they’re mad at Mr. Randolph and what I represent. So how do I show gentleness, patience, humbleness, and bear in love? I listen. I give the clients space to be upset. I’ll tell the clients that it’s okay to say these things to me, but when you walk out of your room we need to find a way to move on–if that means excusing yourself from the table and going into the gym, do it. Sometimes they need someone who will just let them be mad and hear what they have to say. It’s almost like people who are locked up are actually…people. They’re not monsters. They still embody humanity, and in my eyes, are still created in the image of God. So I walk with them in their mess and show them gentleness, patience, and a listening ear.
In showing my clients gentleness and patience, I show them compassion and kindness. These kids have (sometimes) been abandoned by their families, have no positive peers or role models, have never grown up in a stable environment. I want to be clear, though, when I say that in showing them compassion and kindness, it does not excuse them for their alleged actions, and my support for them does not mean I support what they have allegedly done. Showing compassion for someone means praising successes and forgiving mistakes. If this doesn’t sound familiar to you, I’ll point you to Matthew 25 and the parable of the bags of gold where the master (God) praises his servant for being faithful in service. I’ll also point you to the next chapter, Matthew 26 when Jesus is at the Last Supper with the disciples and proclaims that “This is my blood the of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”.
Praise + forgiveness=compassion
If Christ can show compassion on me for all of the things that I’ve done to make Him mad (and I’m sure there’s plenty), then why can’t I show compassion on the client who calls me an asshole? Be kind and compassionate to one another, and do it in love.
Interested in learning more about being compassionate? California College-San Diego has a neat list you can use. Check it out here!