On a bike ride to the park the other day, I passed a girl with a dog. The dog sat on the grass (on a leash) waiting patiently while the girl texted on her cell phone. I rode past them both at least four or five times around the park circle before she finally put the phone away and took the dog on his long awaited walk. I couldn't help wonder what the dog thought while she distractedly ignored him.
At Bible study lunch this week I sat near two widows. Both lost their husbands a year ago. One was 85 and had expected the time was near. The other looked to be about my age, and I'm fairly certain did not expect her life to take such a turn.
I couldn't help but wonder how they coped. And I realized that there is a lot more going on in the world than I normally see from my limited view.
It can be so easy to get caught up in our own thinking, our own problems--they can seem so overwhelming sometimes. But then we talk to a friend or new acquaintance, even a passing stranger at a store, and we hear tales that make our problems pale in significance.
That doesn't mean we don't face trials or struggles. We do. But I think our perspective changes the more we interact with the people around us. The more we listen to them instead of just thinking about what we plan to say next. When we begin to care about their needs above our own. When we pray for the hurting and suffering of those around us and rejoice with those who are happy just because they are happy whether it directly affects us or not.
Sometimes I think rejoicing can be harder than sympathizing because of those little nudges of jealousy we feel when someone succeeds where we do not. Like the dog at the side of the road just waiting to be noticed, we want someone to pay attention to us. We want to be heard and we want empathy for what we feel. That's not wrong.
But sometimes, like that dog, it's our turn to wait patiently while our friend talks to another. Maybe the person on the other end of that text message was in deep need and the dog's "best friend" was trying to help them. Only that girl knows why she ignored her dog in that moment.
And only God knows what is going on in the hearts of the people around us. The more people I talk to, the more pain and suffering I see. The more lack of hope. We need hope.
And sometimes hope comes down to a matter of perspective. We might never know what another has suffered or what trial or trauma they are facing right now. We only know what they tell us.
We do know our own pain and joy. But we must watch how carefully we focus on only ourselves or our text messages and ignore the poor dog.
From either perspective, we can reach beyond ourselves to care for others. We may not walk a mile in their shoes or on their leash, but we can surely walk beside them.