Who is the most important person in the world? If I were being disgustingly honest, I'd have to say the answer is: me. Sometimes it's nice to give the "Jesus" answer. But since we already know that he died and rose again, let's not, for the sake of my argument, count Jesus as a person in the world. Nope, I'm not even going to go for what seems like an upstanding moral answer and say, "my child."
I don't think I'm alone in this "me-ness." I'm going to venture to say that there is no other person on the planet that you care about more than yourself. This isn't all bad, self-preservation is an important part of keeping our kids and families safe. If we aren't in a safe place, how can we keep our children safe as well? We want to live. Our schedules, priorities, finances, behaviors, and attitudes proclaim this as truth. We do a lot for our children and families, but that's because they are OURS. I can just hear those seagulls on Finding Nemo, "Mine, mine, mine." At the root of taking care of our children and families is the desire to have our own lives maintained and preserved in the way that we want them.
If you were to set up a hierarchy of important people (people you care about) in the world, you'd probably be at the top. A close second would come your kids and spouse, then parents, siblings, BFF's, and so on. I'm guessing it would be a pretty long list before you got to your mail carrier or the grocery clerk. If you continued the list to include every person on the planet that you knew, how would you choose #567 and who only made it to #629? And then the kicker...what about the billions of people on this planet that you don't know? How do you rank those people? Do some countries or continents hold a more special place in your heart than others?
These types of questions rage through my brain when I try and think about what it means to live out love. We talk a lot, as Christians, about love. We want to love like Jesus loves. We say we want to care about everybody and follow Christ. We hold in high esteem the Bible passages about the last being first, welcoming children, and loving our neighbor as ourself. But then when I look at the world, the church, and my own life, I see a very different way of living.
Too often I see self-preservation as a higher priority than love. This comes down to simple things like the hot water supply in my house. If I'm the last one in the shower on a Sunday morning, I don't say, "Oh, isn't it nice that my precious children and husband got a warm shower? I don't mind that mine is freezing cold. I'm just so delighted for them." Instead my reaction is, "Whaaaaat...you guys used up all the hot water and now I have to freeze!? Jerks. Thanks a lot." I am most important. My needs and my desires are more important than theirs. If I'm out running errands or perhaps on the way to meeting, I don't stop for a person with car troubles on the side of the road. Nope. I gotta be somewhere, I've got something to do. Plus, I don't want to stop and get out of my nice safe vehicle and help a stranger. What if that stranger is dangerous? Yikes. Nope. Must self-preserve. If I hear of a storm in the mid-west that wipes out a small town, I don't sell my house, pack up my family, and head to tornado alley to rebuild a farmhouse for a family I've never met. That kind of love is extreme...and extremely inconvenient. What if a child in Africa is dying of hunger or a preventable disease? Well, that's nothing new. That happens thousands of times every single day. Every day. The news doesn't even cover those deaths anymore. Almost like those children aren't important at all.
At this point my head starts to explode and I think, "Ok, wait a second. It's normal to be irritated by a cold shower. Aren't we supposed to live and love in the the place where God has placed us? I don't even know how to change a tire or build a farmhouse. I'm supposed to serve out of my strengths, my God-given gifts. Don't start in the "starving kids in Africa" talk. We are supposed to serve out of love not guilt. We can't all be Mother Teresa." God is God and I'm not. Yeah, yeah. I know.
In the middle of all those thoughts that I don't know how to reconcile, God brought me a piece of peace. In heaven love will reign. In the palm of God's hand our names are inscribed. But they aren't written in some gigantic list with Jesus at #1, Moses, David, and all the other Bible bigwigs at the top. There is no hierarchy of love. In heaven you and I will care just as deeply for our child as we do for the child of a prostitute in India. We'll love that farmer from East Africa just as much as we love our father or our best friend here in America. In heaven, a place without sorrow, a place of perfection and everlasting joy, we will see everyone as most important. I'll finally be able to lay down my selfishness and I won't have to worry about self-preservation anymore.
One last thought - What if Christians believed?: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Matthew 6:9-10