By Shawn McMullen
I WRITE MY FIRST COLUMN AS EDITOR of Christian Standard with mixed emotions. As humbled and grateful as I am to have been given this opportunity to serve Christ and our fellowship of churches, I continue to mourn the loss of the former editor, my friend Mike Mack.
When the sister magazines were given new life through the vision of The Solomon Foundation and Christian Standard Media, Mike and I worked together for three years. He edited this journal while I edited The Lookout. During that time Mike and I talked regularly, traveled together occasionally, and supported one another in our ministries. I miss Mike and I continue to pray for his family. I know that holds true for many of you as well.
AS WE ENTER THE NEW YEAR, we’ve added a new column to our publication. Our readers are familiar with Dave Faust, who writes a lesson application for the weekly Bible study material that appears in The Lookout. Prior to that, Dave was editor of The Lookout for many years. Dave, who serves as senior associate minister with East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana, has come on board to serve Christian Standard as contributing editor and columnist.
As contributing editor, Dave will lend his voice to the planning of each issue. As our newest columnist, he will write a feature we’ve titled Motivate for our print publication. While Motivate may reflect on the theme of the current issue, we’ve asked Dave to develop any theme he chooses to help our readers grow in faith and obedience to Christ.
Dave is a gifted speaker and writer whose life and example through the years have remained consistent with all he has spoken and written. Look for Motivate in the final pages of this and subsequent issues of Christian Standard.
THIS ISSUE OF CHRISTIAN STANDARD focuses on the importance of mental health for individual believers, Christian families, and church leaders. You’ll find a variety of articles here written to help us recognize when we’re in need of help, to direct us to ministries and resources designed to help, and to encourage empathy and sensitivity when coming alongside those who need help.
It reminds me of an experience I had not long ago. After meeting friends one morning for breakfast, I walked out of the restaurant and across the parking lot to my car. A few spaces from where I parked, I noticed a sleek, new pickup truck with an extended cab angled across two parking spots. My sense of fairness erupted in a string of critical thoughts. Why take two spaces in a crowded parking lot? Is the new truck really that special? How selfish can a person be?
As I fumed silently over this senseless offense, an elderly husband and wife walked out of the restaurant behind me. The woman moved slowly and unsteadily, looking as if she might topple over any moment. The man walked beside her, his hand cupped underneath her elbow, as he led her toward the truck. They came to the passenger side and the husband carefully braced his wife against the truck. He opened the door as wide as it would go and helped her into her seat.
My critical thoughts dissipated when I realized what he had done. He took two spaces in the parking lot to make it as easy as possible for his struggling mate to get in and out of the truck. What I had mistaken for hubris and selfishness became one of the kindest and most tender acts of love I had witnessed in a long time.
It helps to know the backstory.
I watched the couple drive away and thought, How often have I criticized the words and actions of other people without any knowledge of what they’ve lived through or what they’re going through in the moment?
To be fair, it’s nearly impossible to discern the backstory of people we don’t know. The chance encounter. The unexpected confrontation. But what if our default was to assume that someone who comes across as aloof, offensive, abrasive, or annoying has a backstory—a story that, if we knew it, would lead us to be kinder and more understanding in our dealings with them?
The school bully may be bullied at home. The impatient driver may be responding to a real emergency. The sullen salesclerk or the distracted server may be dealing with issues at home that are making their lives unbearable. The person who seems distant and unresponsive may have just lost a loved one, been diagnosed with a serious illness, or is battling depression.
A person’s backstory doesn’t give them license to do wrong, but knowing their story (or allowing for the existence of a story we don’t yet know) can lead us to be more patient, kind, and deferential in our response to them.
Jesus is our model for this. Matthew referenced the prophet Isaiah as he described the way Jesus went about ministry: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out” (Matthew 12:20).
Picture a hollow-stemmed reed at the water’s edge, weakened by wind and ready to snap in half. Or the flickering remnant of a candle wick nearing the end of its useful life. Weak and vulnerable, either can be obliterated with minimal effort. Some people are like that. We may be unaware of the circumstances that have brought them to such a place in life, but they are there, nonetheless. And we could break them if we choose. Jesus didn’t do that. Rather than break those who were at the breaking point, he restored them. He loved them and gave them hope.
Of course, Jesus held a distinct advantage here, “for he knew what was in each person” (John 2:25). We rarely do, if ever.
Even so, we can do something similar in our encounters with people whose backstories we don’t yet know. Let’s make mercy and grace our default response. Let’s give the difficult and the struggling some breathing room. Let’s show them Jesus.