Shouldn’t the questions you ask yourself at the end of your life be the same questions you ask yourself each day? If you were about to face your final judgment, what would you be asking yourself? Did I spend enough time at the office? Were my teeth white enough? Did my butt look big in those pants? Did I spend enough time at the gym? Was I popular? I don’t know what the ultimate questions would be. However, when I was given my two weeks notice by the doctor, the following questions are the ones that came to my mind as I thought about my most treasured relationships. Perhaps asking yourself these questions daily will prepare you to answer them in the days to come … and help you become built to love.
Question 1: Have I Listened?
To listen is to love. To be a sponge that absorbs the venom and toxicity of a poisoned soul is difficult. To mourn with those who mourn is painful. To listen to others can be a burden. It’s like being loaded up with log after log of life’s heavy lumber that you must haul away and stack in your own woodpiles of memory and experience. But this is what fuels relationships. This is what fuels love. As author and Mennonite minister David Augsberger wisely observed, “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable.”
This soul-to-soul communication puts you into communion with God because, remember, the “least of these” you listen to is a proxy for Jesus. (See Matthew 25:31-46.) Hence, to truly listen to another human being is to hear the voice of God.
“Listening is as close to acting for God as God will allow.”
Listening is also as close to acting for God as God will allow. Listening is, in essence, a form of receiving prayer. The realm of listening, therefore, is sacred ground. The miracle of listening is that it elevates you while you lift others. All of that lifting, hauling and stacking of life’s lumber transforms and strengthens us in the process, as well. We get to vicariously learn and experience life.
The hardest part about listening is that mere mortals are ill-equipped to solve problems. But that’s the beauty of it. You don’t have to solve anyone’s problems. You don’t have to have all the answers … or even any of them. Listening is its own medicine. Saying, “I honestly don’t know what to tell you because your burdens are so enormous and complex” to someone who is truly overwhelmed with life will be reaffirming to them, especially if you follow that with, “you’re an amazing person. You teach me so much.”
Listening is loving.
Question 2: Have I Encouraged?
There really is no excuse for failing to offer encouragement. You can text. You can message. You can email. Even just sending two or three words can make all the difference to someone’s day.
There are so many times throughout my battles with illness when a simple text made the difference between a day spent in loneliness, battling wrenching, nauseous pain, and a day where at least I didn’t feel so alone.
What can you say to offer encouragement?
“I’m hurting for you.” “You don’t deserve this.” “Keep fighting.” “Your example gives me strength.” “You are so strong.” “I’m on your side.” “I’m cheering for you.” “Don’t quit. We need you.”
There are a hundred simple things you can say to make someone feel loved and acknowledged. Of course, taking the time to explain what someone means to you and how they have influenced your life for good is even better. The point is, you must act. You must speak. You must say something. In the face of suffering or trial, your silence says a thousand things and none of them are good. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said it best, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” “In the end,” he said, “we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
“There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”
If you don’t know what to say, say that. For someone suffering from extreme trials and burdens, to hear someone say “I don’t know what to say” is, strangely enough, very encouraging to them because it is validating. It shows that you “get it.” If you understand, maybe God understands. If God understands, then maybe there’s hope.
If all else fails, just remember listening is loving. Hugs are almost always welcome. Your tears also say a lot. It’s okay to cry with others. Tears are the cleansing and encouraging solvents of the soul.
Question 3: Have I Given?
The miracle of God’s plan is that the best way we can keep God’s love is by giving it away. It seems that if you want to feel God’s love, you have to share it. If you have listened or encouraged someone, you have given. But it also brings you a lot of happiness to physically give something to someone on a daily basis.
It doesn’t have to be big. Give a child some money. Stop at the lemonade or cookie stand and see what happens when you whip out a $5 bill. Don’t be a stingy tipper. Pay for the food order behind you in the drive through line. Donate money to charity. Give someone a book (especially mine!). Make cookies for someone. Send flowers. Take someone out to lunch. Find out what they like or enjoy and get it for them. Buy someone their favorite drink or smoothie. Sneak some money into your kid’s wallet or purse. Do it. It will make you feel good. I promise.
Remember the Platinum Rule.
The only rule here is be sure that your giving is empathy-guided. Remember the “platinum rule,” which is the proper interpretation of the golden rule. That rule, when properly understood, is not “do unto others as you would have done unto you.” It’s “do unto others as they would have done unto them.” What is it that “ye would [have] men … do to you?” To treat you the way you want to be treated. Jesus understood this and taught this simple truth. Give people what they want. (See Matthew 7:9-11.)
The reason I call this the “platinum rule” is because it takes a higher investment in others to live it. You have to know people well enough to understand what they want and need. You have to understand them. Love takes empathy.
The whole condescension of God illustrates this. The condescension of God teaches that you cannot truly love someone unless you somehow become them and experience their life vicariously and then love them the way they want to be loved.
Give today. Giving is living.
The Way of Discipleship
Daily asking yourself these three simple questions—“Have I listened? Have I encouraged? Have I given?”—will keep you focused as you strive to become built to love. It will also help keep you happy. Finally, asking these three questions of yourself daily will help you in the noble endeavor of trying to follow Jesus and prepare you for the day when there’s no more time for questions.