Don’t worry. This post isn’t really about history. I wouldn’t have much to say in that regard anyway. Partially for a reason which you are about to see.
As a student, I rarely slept in class. But by the end of my undergraduate years, after consistently burning through more than one box of proverbial candles, I was struggling. It was World Cultures, and the professor had one of those wonderfully soothing voices that could knock me from attentive to comatose in under five minutes. It wasn’t that I didn’t find the class interesting; I did. But I could not, for the life of me, keep my eyes open for a solid 50 minutes under this professor’s spell. For years afterwards, I kept the notebook for that class for the sheer novelty of the story that it told. Each class period began with fresh looking penmanship that slanted quickly down the side of the page and ended with a single fading line. You could almost pinpoint the exact point at which my eyes must have fully closed. And then the jagged line when the pen jerked back alive at my friend’s whispered, “Beagle, wake up!”
Needless to say, I have not carried forward a wealth of World Cultures knowledge from that class. But I have carried forward an interesting lesson that I have only now come to realize was being demonstrated to me even then by my more attentive friend. You see, one of the more fascinating aspects of our exchange was that she sat in the seat directly in front of me. So unless my head actually hit the desk with a bang – which I thankfully don’t recall it ever doing – she had no way of knowing when I was falling asleep. I remember asking her once, “How do you always know when I’m falling asleep??”
“Easy,” she said. “Whenever I feel myself falling asleep, I figure you must be, too.”
Brilliant, isn’t it? She too was suffering under the soporific charms of our professor, but unlike me, she chose to do something about it, single-handedly keeping us both in at least a semi-conscious state.
This is the lesson which God instructs us to follow outside of the classroom as well. Am I feeling lonely? I should be reaching out to someone else who may be feeling lonely. Am I feeling tired and discouraged? I should be speaking words of encouragement to those around me who are probably also feeling tired and discouraged. It is easy when things are going well to get wrapped up into my own daily schedule and pay no attention to those around me. Sometimes it takes a bad day for God to remind me to pay attention. Sometimes it takes feeling lonely to remember those who are lonely. Sometimes it takes feeling discouraged to remember those who are discouraged. In fact, my moodiest days may actually be God whispering: “Beagle, wake up! Take note of this. I have something for you to do.”
There is, of course, a trap in this. I could, as I was prone to do in World Cultures, simply sink deeper into whatever I am feeling. I could ignore God’s wake-up call and think instead only about how I am feeling. It could never occur to me – as it never did back then (leave me alone, I’m sleeping!) – that God can use this feeling to encourage me to reach out to others.
On the other hand, I could reach out for the wrong reasons. I could reach out with the coercive expectation that my actions will be reciprocated. “I am going to help you and therefore you are going to help me.” But this is acting from wrong motives. This is not me listening to God’s call and responding; it’s trying to manipulate others with the sole purpose of making myself feel better. God does not call us to be manipulators; God calls us to be blessings.
Both of these – not acting at all or not acting for the right reasons – are easy emotional traps. True, reaching out to others often is the quickest road back to where we want to be. After all, by keeping me awake, my friend also kept herself awake. By encouraging others, I often find myself encouraged. But the motivation needs to come not from an expectation that other people will return the favor, but from the recognition that God has given me an opportunity.
Whatever I am feeling right now, whatever I am experiencing right now, God can use to bless someone else if I am simply willing to find them. They probably aren’t far away. In fact, they may be right behind me.
And I call learning that lesson a good day in any class.
Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Hebrews 10:24