One day Mister Rogers (of children’s television fame) was visiting California and decided to visit a teenager with cerebral palsy.
At first the boy did not know how to react and began hitting himself in anger. His mother took him out of the room. When he returned Mister Rogers said, “I would like you to do something for me. Would you do something for me?” Through the use of his computer, the boy answered yes. So Mister Rogers asked: “I would like you to pray for me. Will you pray for me?”
Author Wendy Murray Zoba writes: “.. the boy was “thunderstruck” because “nobody had ever asked him for something like that, ever. The boy had always been prayed for. The boy had always been the object of prayer, and now he was being asked to pray for Mister Rogers, and although at first he didn’t know if he could do it, he said he would, he said he’d try, and ever since then he keeps Mister Rogers in his prayers and doesn’t talk about wanting to die anymore because he figures Mister Rogers is close to God, and if Mister Rogers likes him, that must mean God likes him, too.”
Mister Rogers was asked how he knew what to say to make the boy feel better. He responded: “Oh, heavens no, Tom! I didn’t ask him for his prayers for him; I asked for me. I asked him because I think that anyone who has gone through challenges like that must be very close to God. I asked him because I wanted his intercession.” (Wendy Murray Zoba, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Christianity Today, March 6, 2000, p. 45.)
Mister Rogers (as I suspected since I was two) is a very wise man. He knows that those that have experienced adversity often grow spiritually as a result. James put it this way: “…the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
We may never want to enroll in Adversity University… yet we often have no choice. Might as well complete the course work… finding in the end maturity and completeness in Him.
It has been said that joy is to be the hallmark of the believer. But I believe it is to be a sappy “Hallmark greeting card” kind of joy. As Lewis Smedes once remarked: “If our joy is honest joy, it must somehow be congruous with human tragedy. This is the test of joy’s intregrity: is it compatible with pain?…”
Now I believe in living authentically. When we hurt, we hurt. But if we really feel the joy of Jesus inside, we need to tell our face to reflect that… even in the most trying of times.
Early in the 20th Century a man named Alexander Grigolia immigrated from Soviet Georgia to the US. He quickly learned the language, got an education (3 doctoral degrees) and a successful career as a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Yet despite his success, he lacked a true joy in his heart. Robert J. Morgan tells the story of how one day he encountered joy in the face of a shoeshine boy.
While getting a shoeshine, he noticed the boy was working with joy as he scrubbed his shoes. He continued diligently in his task smiling and laughing. Finally Dr. Grigolia could stand it no longer. He said: “Why are you always you so happy?”
Looking up, the bootblack paused and replied, “Jesus. He loves me. He died so God could forgive my badness. He makes me happy.”
The professor snapped his newpaper back in front on his face, and the shoeshine boy went back to work.
Morgan remarks: “But Dr. Grigola never escaped those words, and they brought him eventually to the Savior. He later became a professor of anthropology at Wheaton College, and taught, among others, a young student named Billy Graham. ”
James says: “Count it ALL joy.” Not just the Hallmark moments, but every single moment. That is the witness guaranteed to catch the attention of the joyless.
I was reading the New York Times online today and clicked on an article titled: “The Virtues of the Ego Maniac.” The article was about George Steinbrenner who recently passed away. One of the articles authors, David Brooks, wrote: “His employees lived in fear of him. He hired and fired managers as if they were pieces of meat. He was shameless about buying championships. He was the personification of the tough, obnoxious, imperious, hyper-demanding, win-at-all-costs business owner.” Harvey Greene, the former Yankees PR director was quoted as saying: “The phone would ring in the middle of the night and you knew it was either Mr. Steinbrenner or a death in the family. After a while you started to root for a death in the family.”
Now I understand that Mr. Steinbrenner was a philanthropist and did a lot of good and it is not my intention to smear the memory of a man I’ve never met. I was simply surprised by the way the opinion piece spun Mr. Steinbrenner’s actions. Did his past behavior make him a shameful individual? Cast him as a person we should not emulate? No. Not completely anyway. Because, according to this columnist, his “competitiveness is so fascinating to watch.” And because he was, at least, not a “tepid, non-entity.”
The other columnist, Gail Collins makes a good observation: “People like that aren’t heroic because they can’t ever put anybody else first.” David responds: “Whatever flaws they suffer from, lack of spirit is not among them.”
Makes we wonder what this NY Times reporter would think about the Biblical virtue of humility. Was Mother Theresa a Milquetoast because she served the poor? Was Jesus, our model for “doing nothing out of selfish conceit,” mediocre for taking the role of servant? (Philippians 2:3,7)
As Christians we are called to be a passionate people. A people filled with joy and courage. But we are also called… to put the other guy first… to clothe ourselves in the humiliy of Christ. Perhaps following the principles of Jesus we might have more said about us one day than: “at least they weren’t milquetoast.”