I was reading in a coffee shop recently when I noticed a young man sitting across from me who was speaking angrily under his breath. His head was tilted downward and his body was tense and trembling. As I watched, he began hitting himself in the arm and the chest. Then he bit his hand so hard that I grimaced.
There I sat with the Bible open in front of me, but completely unsure of how God wanted me to respond.
I prayed, asked for wisdom, but continued to sit, trying not to stare. The man seemed out of control, and I wasn’t sure how he would respond if I approached him.
While I remained paralyzed with uncertainty, a lady walked over to the man, knelt down next to his chair, looked him in the eyes and said, “Hello, my name is Lori, what’s your name?”
She carried on a short conversation with him, asked him what his name was, what he was drinking, and then mentioned that she noticed he seemed to be upset and asked if he was OK.
He smiled, looked away with a touch of shame, and shared that he had Tourette Syndrome and that he was just having a hard day. She thanked him for talking to her and encouraged him to be careful and not hurt himself. She walked out the door and headed toward her car.
I was moved by her courage and compassion, so I caught up with her in the parking lot (trying not to be creepy) and thanked her for the way she showed such love to the man she didn’t know.
She said, “I saw everyone staring at him, but I couldn’t just watch him struggling like that. I was afraid he might hit me, but I thought it would be better for me to risk being hurt than for me to just let him hurt alone.”
I don’t know if Lori was a Christian or not, but her love reflected Christ’s love—and I was deeply rebuked.
I thanked her for her kindness, and went back to my table. After a few minutes, I saw the young man hitting himself again. Encouraged by Lori’s example, I went over, introduced myself and began talking with him. As he struggled, I asked him if there was anything I could do to help. He lifted his teary eyes to mine and said, “Pray, if you are the praying kind of person.”
Brian turned out to be a Christian. Rebuked, again.
I had withheld love from a brother in Christ because he was acting in a way that wasn’t “normal.”
We talked for a little while about what God had been teaching him recently. He shared about his love for God and how faithful the Lord had been to him despite what he faced each day. His words were sincere and I could tell they came from a grace-filled wound. When we finished, we prayed together, he thanked me, and after a few minutes, he headed on his way.
And I was left to sit with my open Bible, lukewarm coffee, and a few lessons I hope never fade.
1. Love is a risk worth taking.
Lori reminded me that love is willing to risk. She was willing to risk a punch to the face because she knew that Brian needed to be loved rather than ignored or stared at. Love is often risky, and always worth it. Having an open Bible and acknowledging that every page is God’s inerrant word is good, but if it does not move me to love, it means nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3 ).
The Lord Jesus used a similar scene to rebuke the Pharisees in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37 ). There we find that being a good neighbor is marked by proactive love that overlooks all racial, political, cultural, and social barriers in order to extend love to those in need. Should safety be taken into consideration? Certainly. But as David Platt has said, “Because Christ has died and risen from the dead, safety is not our priority.”
Lori took the risk of loving Brian, and in the process showed me the lesson Jesus taught through the Good Samaritan. Her love was risky, but it was worth it.
2. Love is good medicine.
I have a history of mental illness in my family, so I am keenly aware of the complexities that so many people deal with each day. That being said, I have often seen how God uses gracious displays of tangible love to bring peace to people, regardless of where they are on the mental health spectrum.
Ligon Duncan once shared a story of twin eighteen-month-old boys who had been passed through the foster care system. In their first year and a half of life they had been in nine homes, almost all of which had been abusive. That was until a couple from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School agreed to house the twins. After a difficult first few days, the parents were told by psychologists that the children would never be “affectively normal” because of terrible abuse they had suffered. Despite the warning, they kept the boys in their home for nearly two years. During this time the boys developed remarkably and the doctors could find no other explanation for their turnaround other than the love they had received. God brought healing to those young children through the Christ-like love of their foster parents.
We live in a cold world filled with broken people who feel they have little reason to rejoice. But God uses various acts of kindness to lift the spirits of the suffering. Kindness is not a throwaway Hallmark idea. It is fruit of the Holy Spirit that can break through brokenness to strengthen suffering souls (Galatians 5:22-23 ). Brain was strengthened by kindness that day, and so was I.
3. I’m glad Jesus loves better than me.
I am increasingly thankful that Jesus does not show love to “normal” people. Why? Because none of us are “normal” before God.
The fall has marred us all. And though we may not suffer with the illness Brian does, we are all broken like Brian is. No part of our being is “normal.” We are emotionally, sexually, mentally, physically and spiritually broken. Sin has ravished us and made us far stranger to God than Brian’s illness did to some “normal” people in a coffee shop.
But it is into that brokenness that Jesus entered. He left the peaceful palace of glory and stepped down into our world of pain. He came to show compassion to sinners and to rescue us from all our self-destructive behaviors.
Jesus came to love people who could do nothing in return for Him. Romans 5:8 says it like this, “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God loves sinners like us by forgiving us for all the ways we withhold love from those we think are unworthy or unapproachable. But it is through this forgiving love that we are also compelled to show God’s love to the people He places in our path (2 Corinthians 5:14-21 ).
This love is often risky, but it is a risk worth taking.