You know how we lived among you. You remember how you set yourselves to copy us, and through us, Christ himself. You remember how, although accepting the message meant bitter persecution, yet you experienced the joy of the Holy Spirit. You thus became examples to all who believe in Macedonia and Achaia. You have become a sort of sounding-board from which the Word of the Lord has rung out, not only in Macedonia and Achaia but everywhere where the story of your faith in God has become known. We find we don’t have to tell people about it. They tell us the story of our coming to you: how you turned from idols to serve the true living God, and how your whole lives now look forward to the coming of his Son from heaven—the Son Jesus, whom God raised from the dead, and who personally delivered us from the judgment which hung over our heads. (1Th 1:6-10 PHILLIPS)
I heard my mother tell the same story for the thousandth time and dismissed it as yet another retelling. Truth is, I’ve heard her tell many stories many times. They are like old hat to me now, so much I can recite them.
My mom is a Bible teacher, and for 17+ years I have edited her sermons for resale. You’d think hearing her speak would get old, especially since I know all the stories, but instead, it’s become my most enjoyable part of the week. I have my own office. I am, for most points, my own boss. If I need to know something, I walk out and just talk to Mom.
We have lunch together twice a week. We don’t talk about anything important, necessarily, but, looking back, it’s the togetherness that matters. It’s the fact I’ve spent so much time with her and Dad that I have all these memories, this comfortable “Thanksgiving” feeling that causes people to travel hundreds of miles, or perhaps only ten, to sit around a table each year.
I know her well now, and I imagine, she knows me. Our two days together matters to me significantly, and the stories – the stories. It didn’t seem important to hear how some woman I’ve never met tolerated a situation and overcame it until it applied to me. I saw myself walking in her shoes in part, and I said, “I can do this. I can overcome.” I would have never known that without hearing that story.
Or another tale she routinely tells that also, one day, there I was and realized, “Hey, that’s me.” Those people, who lived their lives as best God gave them to live it, will never know that some girl from Auburndale who writes books found inspiration from their walk with Christ. And I may not realize how the example I strive to set influences others who see me.
Join in imitating me, brothers and sisters, and pay careful attention to those who live according to the example you have in us. (Php 3:17 CSB)
Someone, somewhere on this earth might change their behavior because of what I’ve overcome. That is a sobering thought that stands with me often and guides my reactions. After all, if I found comfort in an unknown woman’s example, then it stands to reason others could find comfort in mine. Or worse, I could lead them astray. I don’t want to be responsible for leading anyone away from the cross and the grace God has extended to all men.
This changes my behavior. Many times, I have an opinion. But what if my bad temper, my snappy response turns someone off to the gospel? Or what if, like those stories, a woman I’ve never met hears a story about me and says, “I can handle this. God and I, together, will overcome this situation in my life?” That fruit, years after it is sown, will abound to my account. (Php 4:17)
So, as I gather this holiday amongst the family that God has given me, I’ll be grateful for many things, greatest of all for surviving this tough year, but also for other people’s walk of faith whose stories, whose victories have changed mine.
Suzanne D. Williams