Do you have anyone in your life that’s a handful? You know, really irritating? Downright difficult? Be careful how you treat them or burning coals may be falling on your head!
One of the most challenging people I have ever had to accommodate was Hot & Hunky’s dad. He was ex-military and an ex-cop. He bragged about riding motorcycles year-round in the ‘60s. “Heck, yeah, (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.”
After a series of crashes and altercations disabled him, he retired from the police department. Without a satisfying job and with little to do at home, he took solace in food and television, gaining a ton of weight, further handicapping his movements which made him cranky.
He had some redeeming qualities. He was funny and charming when he wanted to be. He was kind to children and generous with his time and talent. He loved his family furiously, but he was a difficult patient for his sweet wife. We all waited for the day when he would pass, and relief would come to my mother-in-law.
Then, POOF! She died. Just like that, it fell to us to take over his care. Hot & Hunky handled his finances and insurance, I took on the role of activity director and chauffeur.
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. He would pat me on the backside and call me Baby.
Honestly, 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. Then, I found this Bible verse in Proverbs 25: 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.
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.”
uh-oh! Being kind for a reward is much different than offering true compassion toward people the way Jesus would.
The burning coals were falling on my head!
I started treating my father-in-law as if Jesus himself was following me around taking notes! When I asked God to let me see my father-in-law they way he did, my heart softened. I accepted that man as he was, desperately lonely, and coping in the few ways he knew how to. He needed someone to love and accept him as he was.
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 is.
Just like Jesus loves me.
So, about that challenging person in your life … are the burning coals falling on your head?
Scripture Refresher: ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:40 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.