My turn: It’s how they made you feel

Published 6:51 pm Thursday, January 28, 2016

Two pastors in our small town, loved by many both inside and outside the faith communities they serve here, are walking through a challenging season with regard to their health. Those who pray have prayed more fervently, those who do not have expressed their hopes and warm thoughts, and many, looking on from the outside probably wonder why these types of things should happen to good men who seem to love God and love people so well.



I’ve had the privilege of sitting across the desk of both Reverend Jimmy Moore and Reverend Danny Allen, while serving as a missionary overseas and — perhaps the hardest part of the work — returning to my hometown to raise support to continue serving on the other side of the pond. And one simple lesson comes to mind when I think of each of these beloved, prayed-for men. I can’t remember many details of our conversations, amounts of the gifts given to help me on my way as a missionary, or even specific words of encouragement they passed along for the journey. But my experience with each pastor was much like the old quote attributed (with limited certainty) to Carl W. Buehner, “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

Whether you’re sitting in a crowded coffee shop, standing in line at the grocery store, or meeting with someone to discuss financial decisions that will affect your future, the responses of the person across from you, often more non-verbal than verbal, will be the signals that tell you whether or not you matter to them, whether or not they have the time to hear what you have to say or whether they’re just counting the seconds until they can speak again, or better yet, until the conversation’s over.

I once heard a pastor encourage a crowd of folks to consider this idea: “Each time you look at a person, whether someone familiar or someone you’ve just met, do your best to say ‘I love you’ with your eyes.” If you live for the God who so loved the world that He sent His only Son, then go out and find that place deep in your soul where, like Jesus looking at that rich young ruler who was trying to find the way, look at them, and love them.

So struck was I by the beauty and the simplicity of the idea, that I certainly did my very best afterwards to do just that. To say I love you in the way that I looked at those around me. To try to slow down and value and treasure the person seated next to me on the plane, the person waiting beside me at the bus stop, the lady ringing up the groceries, the man sitting along the road holding out his cup.

Perhaps I succeeded for a little while, but life certainly has a way of changing, as the seasons always do, and fast forwarding the better part of a decade, I find myself back on U.S. soil, here in my hometown, with a husband and four children, and quite a different life. Sometimes I find it hard to slow down and say “I love you” with my eyes to the kid who has gotten out of bed for the fourth time. And sometimes I feel like I should stop to hear the heart of the lady I know on that bench outside Piggly Wiggly, who’s down-and-out and could probably do with somebody just hearing her, letting her know she matters. But I’m sorry to say, oftentimes I scurry on with my day and the concern that I have those four kids to hurry back to, those things on the list that need to get crossed off.

But on those days when I sat across the desk of each of those pastors, asking support from two men who’d surely been asked countless times before, I always only ever felt that I mattered. I always only ever felt that they had time for me, that they cared about the words coming out of my mouth, that they were intently listening rather than quickly forming responses. In each case, I felt that they wanted to do what they could to encourage me to keep serving God in the way He was calling me to serve Him.

A calm sea never made a skillful sailor, but still it’s hard to see two kind and genuine men seemingly tossed about on the waves of adversity. Yet each of them is walking on the water in their own way, and showing so many of us, for times when we’ll face waves of our own, how to find the right Anchor to see us through the storms of life.

The truth is, all of our days are numbered — yours, and mine. Each of us has just a hop, skip and a jump to spend on this Earth. And while I join so many hearts in praying that each of these precious men have decades and decades to continue to love and to serve our community, I’m confident that a part of the legacy each of them will leave behind someday is a legacy all of us should be seeking.

We could change our community (and therefore, our world) for the better, if we’d practice saying ‘I love you’ with our eyes. If we’d listen intently to the person in front of us rather than quickly forming our own responses while they’re still speaking. And most of all, if we’d remember that what people always remember the most about us will be how we made them feel in the time that we had together.