But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! [Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)]
Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets. [Matthew 7:12 (NLT)]
It’s not just the snow bird retirees that have started arriving in southwest Florida; the migratory shorebirds have also returned to the beaches. Yesterday, I noticed a sign that said, “It’s a Matter of Survival.” Noting that our avian visitors (like the elderly two-legged kind) need their rest, it asked beach-goers not to disturb the birds on the beach. Of course, it is a magnificent sight when hundreds of birds take wing as we walk the beach but repeated disturbances threaten their survival. Many of those birds have flown hundreds of miles before reaching our shores and some have many more miles to go before their journey is complete. They land here exhausted and hungry and precious reserves of energy are used every time they are flushed into flight. In fact, studies have shown that shorebirds can lose up to ten percent of their body weight after a busy beach weekend. While walking on the beach, I’ve never given a second thought as to the long journey taken by the birds or the trials they’ve endured to get here. I simply thought they were relaxing in the sun with the rest of the tourists, not struggling to just to survive. While I’ve never purposefully disturbed them, understanding more about our beautiful visitors and their challenges has made me far more considerate of them as I walk the beach.
I started thinking about the people we encounter daily, some of whom can be less than pleasant and others who are downright nasty. Just as I hadn’t thought about the long journey taken by the birds, I rarely pause to consider the difficult journey these people may have taken that has made them the way they are. While problems, trials and past experiences are never an excuse for poor behavior, they often cause it. Not everyone has a strong faith or trusts God. Not everyone has the joy that comes from knowing Jesus and not everyone knows they are loved and forgiven. Sometimes, upon encountering a difficult person, even those of us who call ourselves Christians act as if we’ve left the Fruit of the Spirit behind in the grocery cart—self-control, patience and kindness are in short supply or missing altogether. We were told to turn the other cheek—not to return the slap and or repay spite with nastiness and rudeness with more of the same.
We’re asked to be kind to the shore birds and, remembering their difficult journey, not to disturb them. I think I’ll do the same when I encounter a difficult person. While sending a prayer out for them, I’ll choose to react with love, gentleness and a forgiving heart. Hopefully, my even-tempered behavior will make the rest of their journey easier. Remembering that I know nothing of their trials and worries, I’ll cut them a little slack and give them as much room as I possibly can.
Be kind. Remember everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. [T. H. Thompson]