Burning Coals and Great Rewards
Do you have anyone in your life that’s a handful?
You know, really irritating?
Yeah, me, too.
One of my fathers-in-law was a cop. He bragged about riding motorcycles year-round in the ‘60s. “Heck, yes, (except he didn’t say heck) it was cold. We’d wrap our legs with newspaper as insulation under our uniforms. The department wasn’t full of wimps, women and weaklings like it is now.”
A real charmer, that one.
At least when I had to be around him, his sweet wife kept the peace by buffering his insults and verbal assaults with graceful scoldings and smiles.
Then . . . his wife died.
Suddenly, I became the primary caregiver for that cantankerous man!
He went everywhere the kids and I went—grocery stores, swimming pools, restaurants.
What he couldn’t flirt with, he fought with.
He made unfriendly gestures at drivers using their cell phones.
He told off-color stories at the dinner table.
He woke kids from naps they didn’t want to take and gave them treats they weren’t supposed to have.
The worst by far was when he would pat me on the backside and call me Baby.
I wondered how long it would be before he died or my head exploded.
I would have done just about anything to get rid of him.
But then, I found this Bible verse: If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.
Burning coals for him and a reward for me! What’s not to like? I kept taking care of him, but I didn’t see any burning-coal consequences for him, and I sensed no reward for me.
Note: If you are a whiner like I was, stay out of the Bible!
After complaining to God about him for the millionth time, I found another Scripture passage, Matthew 25:35–40. Jesus is talking to a crowd, and he says, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me.”
When the crowd asks him when they had done all that, Jesus answers, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Caregiving for a reward is much different than caring for people the way Jesus would.
I started treating my father-in-law as he was Jesus himself.
Eventually, I came to see that my father-in-law was a good man, with good qualities. The world he knew had changed around him too fast. He needed someone to take care of him in love. Who doesn’t?
At the end his life, I can tell you he had not changed a lick.
But I had.
I had learned patience, hospitality, mercy, kindness.
I had learned to love my father-in-law as Jesus loved him.
Just like Jesus loves me.
So, about that challenging person in your life … the burning coals aren’t falling on your head, are they?
Scripture Refresher: For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:35-40 NIV
Prayer: God, thank you for loving me as is. Thank you for reminding me that I am no prize and on any given day, I deserve burning coals on my head, but you give me love and blessing instead. Help me to see others the way you see them. To be more like you. Amen.
For the rest of this story, look for my new book The Widow Wore Pink, A True Story of Life After Loss and the Transforming Power of a Loving God on Amazon or at a bookstore near you.