Light a Match, Burn it Down

A few weeks ago a man I didn’t know came up to Ben and me at the Y. “Hey, guys, how are you?! You live in the house with the blue shutters! I honk and wave at y’all every Friday! And…your dog is always off her leash barking at me.” He’s been our garbageman for years.  Oops. He’d always been invisible to me, but I definitely wasn’t to him.

I was an Army brat, went to a different school every year until I was in high school, and even transferred colleges after two years. One of the few benefits of so many years of moving around was that I felt the freedom to treat people and relationships as temporary, expendable. I could act however I wanted and if I chose my relationships poorly or behaved poorly (as I almost always did), I could burn it down in a fiery flame and move on with impunity. Not really such a great benefit, after all?

It took years for me to learn how to treat people and relationships with an eye toward permanence, and even now that I’ve lived in the same town, in the same house for 8 ½ years, this thought pattern can still rear its ugly head.

The Bible says, Even children are known by the way they act, whether their conduct is pure, and whether it is right” (Prov. 20:11). So why do we think that we can get away with seeing right through people or, even worse, treating people poorly and it will never catch up to us?

I have great friends that I honor and treat well, but I still sometimes live under the misguided assumption that I’m flying under the world’s radar and can really act however I want – either I’m invisible or they are. Except I’m not. And neither are you.

What’s my REPUTATION?

Reputation has nothing to do with the job you have, the house you live in, or the car you drive. REPUTATION is the way you speak to someone who speaks to someone who knows someone who knows you. After you’ve spoken to one person, every town is a small town and somebody, somewhere knows what you do when you think nobody’s watching.

So, how am I treating people who aren’t “important?” Matthew 5:16 says, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” It doesn’t say, “Let your light shine before other people who are your friends or who you can use to your benefit.” It says, “Let your light shine before others.” That’s all others, folks.

So to my sanitation worker, I grinned sheepishly, apologized profusely, introduced myself and told him how Ben wants to be him when he grows up. And the following Friday, I smiled, waved, and made extra sure Stella was locked inside when he rolled through.

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Reputation isn’t a geographical radius anymore either. Digital relationships are sometimes more flammable than IRL ones. This woman made me so mad the other day. I wanted to rip off a nasty e-mail and burn that bridge to the ever-lovin’ ground. But after a little bit of Jesus and a lotta bit of Kurt, I responded differently. I gritted my teeth, expressed optimism about the situation (which was only 97% lie), and the entire future of this relationship “that’s not important” changed for the better. My reputation with her and the people she knows remained intact. And someday, that unimportant relationship could become integral to me, my family, and my Heavenly Father.

What’s HIS Reputation?

The second part of that verse in Matthew says, “so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” I’m realizing my reputation isn’t mine alone. As long as I claim to follow Jesus with my whole life, my words and actions are inextricably bound up with the world’s perception (or misperception) of Him. Is my reputation someone who honors and cares about all others, who goes above and beyond to show kindness, who draws people to me with a winsomeness that is irresistible? If not, then I am not representing Jesus, because that’s who He is.

So today I’m trying to think about how I treat people every time all the time. I’m realizing that kindness doesn’t cost much. I’m putting myself in the shoes of the grumpy cashier or taking a minute to encourage the frazzled mom at preschool drop-off. Yes, I hope it circles back to an increase in my reputation for kindness here on earth, but at the very least, I hope my Father is pleased with my lighting up on His behalf today.

And hey, if I’m wrong I may just light that match and join the Army.

What’s your reputation in your small corner of the world? How do you treat people who “aren’t important?” What could you do this week to rebuild a burned bridge?

Carey from Cary lives with her husband, Kurt, and Reid, Halley, & Ben, who call her mama and keep her hustling. An Army brat, Carey’s lived in the Carolinas longer than anywhere else; although it makes her itchy sometimes, her roots are firmly planted in the ground here. By the time Kurt graduates from seminary in a few years, Carey plans to miraculously be transformed from salty and snarky into a sweet and submissive pastor’s wife…but it ain’t looking too good so far.

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