It was a hot, sticky day just last summer. It was my day off from work and I had a rare few hours to myself as my wife and kids were out with friends. So despite the sun being at its hottest point, I decided to head up to the outdoor basketball courts to get some exercise. Hoping to play a few pickup games, I was disappointed to find no one at the courts. I guess most people are too smart to play basketball at this time of day during the hottest point of the year . . . .
Nonetheless, being the stubborn person I am, I was determined to get a good workout and make the most of my time, so I decided to do some drills by myself. Running, shooting, dribbling, and all sorts of competitions where I would try to beat my previous score kept me busy for well over an hour. I was losing sweat fast and my body was telling me it was about time to stop. Reluctantly I sat down in a sliver of shade produced by a telephone pole to hydrate and cool off before leaving.
Just then some other guys started showing up. Of course there were nine people and they needed ten to play. I had wanted to play some games after all, “What the heck? Why not?” I thought to myself. To my surprise, I played well . . . for about 2 minutes. My body was just too tired from all the sweat I’d already lost and from all the other drills I had already done.
The problem was that none of the guys I was playing with knew how long I had already been working hard in the hot sun. “Come on man . . . play some defense!” “You have to hit that open shot!” I could see in their eyes the four guys on my team where disappointed in my production. If only they had known what I had been through they would have understood my exhaustion, my lack of effectiveness on the court, and would have realized I was actually playing quiet well considering what I had already done that day.
To Love Well, We Must Know People’s Backstory
So many times in life, all we see is how people are currently acting without ever knowing the backstory that has led them to this point. Everybody is odd, overly sensitive, off-putting, or has some other character flaw that makes it easy to judge from the outside. And everybody has a history of hurt that produced those flaws (mixed with our natural sinfulness) that explains why they are the way they are.
Jesus loves us so well because he understands us so well. He knows everything that has ever happened to us. He knows you run from commitment because your dad left at an early age. He knows you overeat because through high school when you lost all our friends from middle school, the only way you knew how to deaden the hurt was with food. He knows your mom was verbally abusive which is why you are now verbally abusive to your kids. One of the reasons Jesus loves us the best is because he knows us the best.
If we want to love other people like Jesus loves us, we will need to spend the necessary time and investment learning people’s past.
There’s Always a Story Behind the Behavior
Have you ever seen a pet owner in love with their 15 year old poodle whose blind in one eye, limps, has awful breath, stinks like road kill, chases cars, and wondered to yourself, “How on earth can this lady love this nasty little ankle biter?” People love their dogs even when they get old and odd because they’ve been with them since they were just a pup. They can overlook Snowball’s toxic breath because they have a history together. But when a stranger sees Snowball for the first time in old age, all they see is a dog on its last leg.
That’s a lot like how we see each other. All we see is the surface flaws. But Jesus has been watching us from the moment we were conceived, and he knows our whole story. Psalm 139:3, 13 explains, “You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. . . . For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”
Notice Jesus’ sensitivity to the sick man’s backstory, “In these [colonnades] lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:3-6, ESV).
To the world, each one of us is just a part of the “multitude of invalids,” but to Jesus we are “one man,” a specific person, with a specific history, thus in need of a specific treatment plan and a purposeful type of healing. Jesus “knew that he had already been there a long time.” Just like this man in need of healing, our God knows our history and isn’t scared, confused, or overwhelmed by it. Just as Jesus asked this man a certain question, God knows just the type of question to ask us to lead us to where we need to go. When we turn to Christ for our healing, only then will we find the help we are looking for because only he perfectly knows our past which has led us to this current place of pain.
We must try to do our best to remember that there is always a story behind the behavior, which will help us love others better. But we must also realize that no one will be able to truly love like Jesus because no one will be able to fully know us like Jesus.
Therefore, let’s go to Jesus above everyone else for our own needs and help others to do the same.