“You could not possibly understand how I felt,” she said.
We were on our way to church and had spotted four vultures circling over a wooded area near the highway. My wife was thinking back on our time as medical missionaries when we had traveled to Miango for our annual mission meeting. Upon reaching Miango, I almost immediately had become ill and slipped into a semi-comatose condition. Becky sat by my bedside for three days, one infant in arms and our five-year-old daughter leaning against her chair, with everyone but me crying.
Three vultures landed on our roof and remained there until I awakened. Each time she entered our cabin she looked at those hungry birds and trembled with fear.
She was right. I have no idea how she felt. I can imagine the fear of being left alone in Africa with two children if I had not survived, but I will never truly feel what she felt.
Through most of my life I have been fairly ego-centric, thinking of the world as it relates to me, considering my thoughts, plans, dreams and fears as if they were central to the meaning of all things. This thinking has framed my understanding of other people. I used to think I understood other folks pretty well, their motivations and their character, based on my own experiences and intelligence. But the older I become, the more I realize that my wife’s statement is nearly universal: I cannot possibly understand how most people feel about life. Nor do I truly respect their life experiences as I do my own. And I don’t really believe that their motivations can be as noble as my own.
When Paul said, “Count others more significant than yourselves,” he was not just talking about morality or skills. I suspect he was speaking of their entire person, the person for whom Jesus died. I suspect he was telling us that the experiences of those we meet are just as valid as our own, that the heartfelt dreams of those we encounter each day are just as noble as ours, that God’s plan for each person we touch is just as significant as ours, that the hopelessness of every person we contact is equal to our own hopelessness, were it not for the presence of Christ in our lives. As C.S. Lewis put it in his essay “The Weight of Glory:”
“It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.”I will never see those hungry birds on my roof as my wife once did, but I now clearly value her insight from that experience far more than I do my own.
Let me look at those around me the way you look at me.