In the early 1990s, which currently feels about 500 years ago, I went to work on a weekly youth magazine. The job was in an Adventist institution, but regardless of that, I felt an instinctive desire to encourage my colleagues by my attitude and demeanor and be the most constructive presence I could. So I consciously smiled and greeted people and stayed positive in meetings and cheerfully and promptly fulfilled my responsibilities. Many of my colleagues, I must say, were similarly a positive presence and encouraged me.
Was this a virtuous display? I don’t know. Maybe. It was no credit to me. It seemed like the natural thing I wanted to do.
I’m not a naturally bouncy person (see my passport photo), but I found that when I was consciously cheerful with people, I felt good myself. It wasn’t something I forced myself to do. From somewhere in the depths of the consciousness that I asked God to dwell within, I had a desire to bring a bit of light if I possibly could.
In every unexpected circumstance, I will ask for grace and for the strength and will to be gracious.
Fast-forward to the coronavirus pandemic. My wife and I go out of the house early in the morning to walk for an hour in the neighborhood. We see a few other people with masks, and we walk on the other side of the street and say “Good morning” or “How are you doing?” We’re trying to convey, from a distance of 30 meters (100 feet) or so, a smile and concern for the person through a rectangle of cloth held on to our ears with elastic. We don’t get to pet the dogs.
Is this a virtuous display? I don’t know. Maybe. It’s difficult to make any kind of display at this juncture.
I’ll be honest. Sometimes this year I’ve had to prompt myself quite sharply to be a bit of light. Sometimes I don’t feel like doing it. Staying home, I’m not feeling the whole “constructive presence” thing. What is this malaise, and what can be done?
The apostle Paul greeted people with such phrases as “Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ,” which, if it weren’t factually true and a solid witness, would sound a little over the top. Consider that the church planter spent more than two years in prison and about the same amount of time under house arrest. I’m going out on a limb here and speculating that he didn’t feel deep joy every single day of those years. It’s almost certain that Paul was imprisoned in Rome when he wrote to the Colossian church members, “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak” (Col. 4:2-4, NASB).*
Under every type of life condition, I will pray for the way I ought to speak. In every unexpected circumstance, I will ask for grace and for the strength and will to be gracious.
* Scripture quotations marked NASB are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
Tim Lale is a freelance writer and editor in Burtonsville, Maryland.