By Pat Magness
The before and after photographs probably wouldn’t look that different. Both pictures would show a handsome, tall, athletic young man with a big smile. Unlike the transformation depicted in before and after pictures for a weight loss promo or exercise video, this transformation was not in looks, but in attitudes and actions.
When I knew him “before,” he was self-absorbed, careless with the feelings of others. Some might have called him arrogant, and while he was never lazy, he often looked for the easy way. Perhaps most disturbing, he treated his sweetheart of a girlfriend with a casualness that to me seemed almost cruel. My mother had a phrase for people like this, and it often occurred to me: “I would just like to shake some sense into him.”
Years passed and we lost touch—so I wasn’t there to see how the change came about. It was probably not overnight—probably one small step at a time. I feel sure it wasn’t without pain; there must have been a few tears shed. I do know that the transformation came through the love of Jesus. Grace given and received over and over gradually awakened in him a deep well of compassion. Unselfishness, hard work, and self-sacrifice became the hallmarks of his life. The old smile of self-satisfaction became transformed to a welcoming smile that extended God’s love to everyone he met. He answered God’s call to work in urban ministry—surely the definition of hard work. And just as wonderful, he had learned to treat that sweet girlfriend, now his wife, with the honor and respect worthy of her and of him.
When I began writing this story, I was concerned I might be revealing too much about someone I admire. And by the time I finished, I realized I could write this same story about many people I have known and loved and seen transformed by God’s grace.
Dr. Pat Magness is Professor Emerita of Humanities and English from Milligan College in Tennessee.