Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner. 1 Peter 4:12-13
Greetings from Asheville, North Carolina!
Asheville is up in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and Bellavista, Mom’s retirement residence, is built into the side of a hill. Because of its placement in the hillside, parking is frequently an issue, especially during holidays when family members come to visit.
When I’m in the US, I live here at Bellavista with Mom, which is a very good arrangement for both of us. There are a lot of nice people at Bellavista. In fact, the majority of the people here are very nice, indeed, and Mom and I are friends with almost all of them. But there are also a few cranks.
One in particular is always crabbing at me for this or that. Yesterday he accosted me in the dining room and told me: “You parked in my parking place! You’re young and healthy, and you should park at the top of the hill and leave these parking places for the people who don’t get around so well.”
The management has said again and again that there are no assigned parking spaces here, and of course, I hadn’t parked in a handicapped space. I often drive Mom’s car, but I never park in a handicapped space if she is not in the car with me. Plus this man walks without assistance, not even a cane, so mobility is not the real issue for him. But rather than point that out to him, I just said, “Sorry, I didn’t know that it was your space.”
This man’s crankiness is famous throughout Bellavista. Mom and another friend sat at a table by the fireplace in the dining room once, and he told her: “We always sit here.” Knowing that there are no assigned tables, Mom smiled and said, “Well, have a seat!” That, of course, made him furious and he went to sit at another table
When I told her about the parking thing, Mom went and asked the director for clarification. The director confirmed that there are no assigned parking spaces, but that priority goes to residents—of which I am one. Mom turned to me and said: “We’re not moving the car!” So the car stayed where it was, close to the front door, overnight.
When I woke up this morning, my spirit spoke to me about what Jesus would do in this situation. I knew: Jesus would have parked at the top of the hill to begin with, being always considerate of others. But I don’t want it to look like I’m catering to his bossy demands. I knew that I should immediately move the car, but I didn’t want him to get that parking spot, hoping that someone else would get it, instead.
As I struggled with myself, I realized that the problem isn’t the cranky old man. The problem is me. Two years ago when I was back in Milan after a three year absence, I quickly became reacquainted with how rude people in the big city can be. In particular, it seemed like more and more people were pushing to get onto buses and subway cars, without first letting passengers get off. So I started gently pushing people out of my way when they tried to get on while I was getting off, grumbling to myself all the while. Then the Holy Spirit told me: “It’s not your job to teach people manners. You need to be an Ambassador of Christ, even in these situations.”
Remembering that lesson from Milan, I realized that it’s also not my job to teach manners to this man, but to be an Ambassador of Christ. And what that means is to die to self. The trouble with self is that I’ve lived with myself for such a long time. I like myself. I like getting my own way. But getting my own way is often in direct conflict with obedience.
Obedience requires that I die to myself, pick up my cross daily and follow Jesus Christ. I’ve been a Christian for 45 years, and I still struggle with selfish desires. After all these years, I know that self dies hard. Self dies one of those opera deaths—you know, the kind that keeps singing for another ten minutes, flopping and flailing about on the stage. And just when you think it’s really dead, it comes back for an encore and another ten minute song.