We have all felt disappointed when others have failed to care for us. Perhaps you have even been disappointed by someone today! I have been pondering the ways I could be more thoughtful in my daily activities in an effort not to be the one who inadvertently disappoints.
Of course, this begs the question: why do I not love those around me as I should and in the process become a source of disappointment? After all, we are called to love others and to be actively seeking to imitate Jesus. Well, the bottom line is I am a sinner. I manage to actively do and say things that cause disappointment. I also fail to do good—there is often an absence of action.
It’s this absence of action that I want to focus on here; my sins of omission. What are the things I could do to show love for others, but don’t? As James 4:17 says “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them”. And as Psalm 19 says, “But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden fault” (v. 12).
There seems to be two kinds of sins of omission: those things I know I should do and don’t, and those things I don’t even know about—my hidden faults.
This article will hopefully shed some light on ways that we can seek to actively show love to others in our churches. These are suggestions about how we can be more careful and intentional as we seek to love those that God has given us in our church families. Maybe these things will be reminders of the good you knew you could be doing but haven’t been, for whatever reason. Or maybe these are things that you’ve never have thought about before and this may be revelation of ‘hidden faults’—things you never knew you should or could do! Either way, I am seeking for us to think differently about the role we can play in other’s lives and then behave differently.
I am not suggesting we seek to escape our finitude and aim for more than is possible humanly speaking but instead that we seek to be more actively thoughtful with the time and energy that is available to us. And it’s worth saying upfront that we are all different in our energy levels, capacity for people, personalities and availability of both time and money. And this is okay. Don’t try to be someone God has not designed you to be.
So here we go. This isn’t an exhaustive list by any stretch but hopefully it will give you some ideas that will be helpful in your own context. If we do this for a few people each, there will be a whole lot of people out there next week who are feeling loved and cared for… and less disappointed.
Learn about others… and act on what you learn
This is quite a huge area because of all the ways, times and places it might take place. ‘Ask questions’ is a fairly succinct summary though.
When you leave church, can you think of a couple of more meaningful things you learnt about someone? Talking about the weekend, a movie or the weather is fine and good. Truly, it is. But how well do you know one another? Is the person you spoke to enjoying or struggling with their work? Are they feeling overwhelmed with family responsibility? Are they on an even keel and feeling thankful? Are they caring for an elderly parent?
Of course, some people are more private than others but asking open ended questions like “How is work?” or “How do you find being at home with the kids?” allows the other to dictate how much detail is revealed. Whatever they reveal to you, it’s more than you knew previously. And then whenever you see that person next, you can follow up with what you asked about. “I know you said last week that you’ve been finding work/the kids/life hard. How has this past week been?” I guarantee they will feel thankful for your concern and interest. If you intend on praying for them, say so. And if things are particularly hard and you have capacity, you could offer to make a meal or take the kids for an hour, or pick up those extra pesky groceries they forgot or something else.
With these examples I have hedged into showing my own stage of life… but perhaps a more helpful way to show love in your own context would be to take that mate out for a beer, or meet them for a coffee or lunch during the working day. Or send them an email or text during the week to say you have prayed and ask them how they are finding that thing they mentioned. Showing active and thoughtful interest in someone does not have to be onerous and taxing in time, energy or money. A text can take one minute. Or less. “Prayed for you today” might take 20 seconds. And if you’re a millennial there is probably an emoji that conveys this activity of prayer.
Do you feel nervous or unsure whether you could talk well with people of all ages? Don’t be. You can! Why? Because it turns out that people, regardless of their age are… well…. people. Open-ended questions are great to ask of anyone but particularly those with whom you may feel little familiarity due to a difference in age or stage of life. In one breath, you can ask the young girl at church what year she is in at school and what she likes at school (‘Lunch’ will be the answer by the way. They have to do such hard work the rest of the day you see.) And in your next breath you could ask the retired man how he spends his time now that he has retired. If he mentions a hobby or activity, ask questions about that. I feel encouraged when people take an interest in me and even more so when I know they have stepped out of their comfort zone to do so. What a compliment!
Love people in the way they feel most loved
Have a think about a few people in your church who you would like to work at caring for. What makes them tick? Genuinely loving another requires a genuine knowledge of them, and asking questions will help you work out how they feel or experience love.
You may call them love languages or something else. Quality time. Gifts. Words of affirmation. Touch. Acts of service. How could their primary love language affect how you can show them kindness? If your friend at Bible study finds acts of service significant, then helping with her kids when she is sick or bringing her a meal might be most appreciated. But if she feels filled up by gifts then perhaps some flowers or chocolate will hit the mark more accurately. And don’t be nervous if a certain course of action seems unnatural to you. Be confident in making effort that accords with your understanding of the person you have in mind.
And how are they wired to live? Are they introverted or extroverted? Spontaneous or planned in their activities? Are they quite open or more private in revealing much of themselves? Think again of a sick friend. If they are a hyper planner, like me, they may be feeling anxious about how to get the kids from school. So, if you have the capacity to help then offer to do this as soon as you’ve become aware of her situation (and not at 2.45pm when she will have spent the day stressing about it and trying to work out her own solution). And if she is introverted, perhaps don’t invite yourself in when you drop the kids off! If your friend mentions they have a medical appointment and they are relatively private, you can show better care asking if they are okay rather than asking what their medical concern is.
The aim here is to know the person better and then think carefully about how to love them in a way they ‘understand’ and leaves them feeling loved.
Pray for people and let them know
What an encouragement it is to know someone is praying for you! Not long ago I had some surgery, and a lovely non-Christian friend of mine said to me that she had been thinking of me during that time. I felt genuinely thankful for this, but it certainly was not encouraging in the way it is when a Christian friend says they have been praying for you. I was so thankful for the friends who texted both my husband and me to ask after us and to let us know they were praying. This was highly meaningful and made me and all of my family feel cared for. As much as we needed and massively appreciated the practical help with meals and the kids, knowing that people had stopped and brought me and my family by name before our Father in heaven, advocating on our behalf, was an astounding thought. What a privilege to be the recipient of this!
In short, if you intend to pray or have prayed for another, let them know! (Of course, only communicate intent if you truly plan on praying for them! We’ve all been caught out on that one, haven’t we?) The prayer itself is most important but letting the person know is often more valuable than we give it credit for. At a number of points when I thought of how well we were managing after the surgery (compared to my expectations), these messages I had received from others prompted me to recognise that this was all answered prayer and to thank God for his care of us.
Express your thanks
How often do you find yourself giving thanks to another? Perhaps you are quite conscious of all that happens around you and are good at saying thanks, or perhaps you sometimes think it but don’t say it. Where could a ‘thanks’ be appreciated but is lacking? With your pastor after they preach? Even if it was a sermon you felt distracted in, you could still say thanks for the time and effort they put in. Writing a (good) sermon is harder than it looks! Or with your Bible study leader? Or the person who spent time carefully preparing the corporate prayers? The Sunday School leaders? Those on morning tea? Music? Welcoming? The list goes on. Is there someone in your Bible study who is always the organiser or the ever-present encourager themselves? Or someone who can always be found doing some washing up after Bible study? Do you thank them, with sincerity, for the ways in which they serve? So many people are actively involved in church life and as much as they are not doing to win praise from other people, it is still an encouragement to receive thanks.
These behaviours and changes to behaviour takes prayer, effort and commitment. But I want to reiterate that these thoughts and ideas are not aiming to make you feel guilty or laden down with more things you should do. We are limited beings by God’s good design. We all have different situations that change with time. Rather, the aim is to think of others more and then relate to them, where we are able, in such a way that they may rejoice in God’s kindness to them in that moment because of the love you have shown them.