Sunday, August 26, 2007

Loving the Unlovely

A week ago, I attended a “high tea,” a program two ladies of our church put together for our ladies’ group at my church. It was an exquisite evening. The meal portion of the tea was served in three courses, each course served with several different kinds of tea. As we ate and drank, JoAnne, one of the hostesses, explained the history and etiquette behind the tea ceremony.

Afterwards, JoAnne explained the source of her interest and expertise in the tea ceremony. JoAnne taught high school English for twenty years before retiring. As part of her curriculum on British and colonial literature, she would hold a tea ceremony each year. She bought a set of plain white china plates and tea cups and brought in her British grandmother’s antique china tea pot. Before the scheduled class, she locked the door and put a shade over the class window so no one could see the transformation of the classroom. She set a paper doily, a china plate and tea cup on each desk. As the class went through the ceremony, she served the dainty food and several blends of tea.

Sound a little frumpy for high school kids? Not at all. After kids had experienced it in her class, they would come to her the next year. “Are you doing that tea thing again? Can I help?” they would ask. Years later, her students still remembered the tea ceremony.

“You know who appreciated the tea ceremony the most?” she asked us. “It was the worst kids in my classes. They were so surprised that anyone would do something that nice for them.”

As a fellow teacher, I was inspired in my own teaching. It made me think of something that happened a month ago in junior church. One of my worst kids was being his normally worst self. An elder came down to serve Communion to me and any other baptized children as is our custom. I wondered how I could get this child to stand still long enough to be respectfully quiet. I called him to stand beside me and put my arm around him, expecting him to squirm away. Instead, he nestled into the crook of my arm and stayed there quietly, pressing his little head against my side. Was he surprised that someone would hug him?

Our human nature wants to lash out to these worst kids. We find ourselves instinctively raising our voices, adding a hard edge to our tone, rationalizing that that’s all they understand. They’re the hardest ones of all to show love and kindness to. Yet, when we do, those are the ones who will appreciate it the most. Why? Because they need it the most.

It makes me think of Jesus’ words about turning the other cheek, loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:38-43). Why did Jesus say this? Because Jesus knew. The ones who are the worst are the ones who need the love the most and they’re not going to get it from anywhere else. The light of love shines most brightly in the greatest darkness.

Who needs the light of Christ’s love this week in your life? What special kindness can you do that will surprise them that someone would do something that nice for them?

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