If you’ve been a Christian for a while—or maybe even if you haven’t—you’ve probably heard someone say this to you: “If you were the only one to ever accept Jesus, He still would have come to die just for YOU.” Wow. That’s a pretty heavy thought. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time believing it’s really true—at least I did until just recently.
A typical day became not-so-typical as my teaching colleagues and I were released from our morning meeting. Much like race horses chomping at the bit when the gates fly open and it’s time to run, the end of the meeting is our signal that we’re free to politely race walk each other to the copy machine, the big paper cutter in the workroom, the Keurig, and our one and only teacher restroom. In the teacher universe, these last minute preparations—especially emptying your bladder properly—can make all the difference between captivating your students’ hearts for the entire day or having to stand on your head to keep them from falling asleep.
This particular morning my hopes of beating any of my colleagues to the punch were dashed when I found myself shuffling behind one particular lady. She was scheduled for a hip replacement in a few months, and today she was limping very slowly with a cane, and clearly in a lot of pain. I know it was so wrong, but I was annoyed, and for a brief moment I considered speeding up to pass her as we neared the door of the school office.
But instead, I did something completely different and unexpected.
I stopped her, looked straight into her eyes, and I said, “I just want you to know I understand how hard it is for you to show up and teach every day when you’re in such pain. It takes a lot of effort, and you’re doing a great job.” Then she did something completely unexpected: She burst into tears, buried her face on my shoulder, and poured out her heart. Through sobs and gasps she confessed her struggles about feeling misunderstood, inadequate, and like nobody could see her genuine ability because she simply couldn’t function at full capacity in her current condition.
It wasn’t a long conversation at all, but apparently my few words were like medicine to her. She thanked me profusely, and she actually seemed to have a bit more spring in her step after that. As we parted ways she told me, “I’m so glad at least one person here really understands what I’m going through.”
And I did really understand, because four years prior to meeting her, it was I who had been limping around with a cane, functioning in survival mode, forcing a smile all day long, and utterly exhausted with every step I took. I remember waking up on school mornings, wincing in pain as I reached to turn my alarm off, and dreading the very thought of grasping my cane and putting my feet into walking motion. There’s no way to help someone who hasn’t lived through it to understand how hard it is to push through debilitating pain each day with enough grace and stamina to stand before little kids and teach them with kindness, patience and love. I absolutely love teaching and I adore every one of my darling students, but when you have to grit your teeth in agony every time you stand up to teach about why the word “said” isn’t spelled s-e-d, it can make you want to rip the smiles right off of their sweet faces. Thankfully, my hip replacement was enormously successful, and teaching is pure joy again—most of the time.
“God needs hands and feet on the ground, and when we allow our pain and suffering to turn into a tool, God can use it for His glory.”
So, yes, I understood exactly what my dear colleague was battling every moment of every day, and it seemed important to let her know. It’s been a year since that conversation, and she still thanks me for it often.
An important revelation struck me as my colleague hobbled to her classroom and I skipped to mine: “God took the pain and struggle that I went through, and He used it as a blessing for someone else. She needed to hear a heartfelt word of encouragement from someone today, and because she knew I truly understood, it blessed her in a way no one else could, and gave her strength to carry on.” That was a cool thought, and it made me feel pretty good.
But then I thought about it some more, and I had some questions for God:
I said, “Father, I’m glad you were able to take my painful experience and use it to help my colleague, but was all that I went through really just for that moment? I went through almost two years of agonizing hell with my hip; why was that one little blip in time such a big deal?”
The answer came so clearly to me, like God was whispering it straight into my ear: “Because I love her that much.”
Mic drop. Mind blown.
She was infinitely important to Him, He loved her so much, He had foreseen what she would need at that particular moment, and all of that moved a loving Father to work something into me years before our conversation occurred so that I could tell her what she desperately needed to hear, just at the right moment.
“You have no idea how many people I’ve prepared for the sole purpose of being your source of encouragement at certain moments in your life.”
But that led to more questions: “Ok, Father, then, why me? Why make me suffer for her sake?”
God’s answer: “So you can participate in My business with Me.” Boom. Mic drop again. That’s a pretty good answer, too. God needs hands and feet on the ground, and when we allow our pain and suffering to turn into a tool, God can use it for His glory. And as a side benefit, we get to be part of His eternal plan. We get to work alongside our Dad, fulfilling the personal purpose and calling He has for us.
Another question: “But what about me? What about the times when I have been the one needing encouragement?”
God’s answer: “You have no idea how many people I’ve prepared for the sole purpose of being your source of encouragement at certain moments in your life.” And suddenly a literal avalanche of memories began to fill my brain, memories of people who had offered just the right words and actions to comfort me in specific moments of crisis and need, people whom I knew God had taken the time to prepare just for me to be the very hands, feet, and mouthpiece of Jesus.
Then I saw this statement in a whole new light: “If you were the only one to ever accept Jesus, He still would have come to die just for YOU.” God is so much more personal than we usually think He is. He sees us all as individuals, He loves us as individuals, and the cries of our hearts touch Him on a personal level. His love for my colleague is so big that he made me into an instrument of encouragement just for her; His love for me is so big that He has made others into instruments of encouragement just for me; His love for all of us is so big that He creates ways to include us in His business; His love for us is so big that He’ll spend years fashioning us into just the right tool for one tiny moment in the span of eternity. Now, that is some kind of special love. That is the kind of love that just might put a Savior on a cross—just for me, or just for you, and for you alone.
As I write this, it’s a few days after Christmas. I think it’s easy to hear the Christmas story over and over again and to forget to consider just what an incredible gift and demonstration of our Father’s love it was for Him to send His Son to earth for us. God’s gift of Jesus is for all; but Jesus is also just for you.
I’ll close with Song of Solomon 8:6-7a:
“Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love [His love for you] is strong as death, jealousy [His jealousy for you] is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord. Many waters cannot quench love [His love for you], neither can floods drown it.”
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