I stood on a cramped jet way a few weeks ago watching a little brother and sister run around. They were impatient with the small amount of space they were given for the expansive task of being children. The brother was trying to get into the plane, weaving through the legs of passengers and knocking over bags. After a nod of approval from their mother, I gave her two little ones fruity tic-tacs, trying to appease them. The older sister (named Boston, I gathered) attempted to bring her brother’s chaos under control, yelling, “Aiden, stop running around, come back!!!” She wanted her brother to thank me for the tic-tac. Chasing and yelling at her brother only added to the mayhem, as children’s attempts to de-escalate often do. The other passengers shifted around, leaning on their luggage, mostly amused by the youthful antics. I remember thinking, she is just so obviously an oldest child, smiling at the thought of my big sister and her loving sense of responsibility for the rest of our family. As I thought this, Boston’s wise mother gently reminded her, “Boston honey, let me be the mom.”
Later, while reading the New Testament account of Mary and Martha, I remembered Boston and her mom. In the story, Mary and Martha host Jesus in their home. Martha bustles around, busy with household tasks, while Mary listens to Jesus. Martha feels burdened without the aid of her sister, and asks Jesus to tell Mary to help her, saying “Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? Bid her therefore that she help me.” While reading, I thought, Martha is a classic oldest child. I realized the story teaches us something about the way we treat other people. Jesus doesn’t need us to tell Him what everyone else is doing wrong. He needs us to love and minister to each other. Just like that tired mother on the jet way, when we feel the need to help God with His judgments, he gently reminds us, Let me be the Savior.
Learning to love people well is tricky. Most of us have every good intention for the people we care about, and families and friendships are generally fulfilling and wonderful. Still somehow, all of us err along the way. One of the missteps that tempts me is wanting to be in charge of what other people do, thinking I know what will make them happy. Why are they together? Why aren’t they together? He needs to be in school. I’m her visiting teacher and it’s my job to get her back in church. They should have more/fewer kids! The temptation to yield to this kind of thinking is strong when it comes to those we love. When I was small, after an anti-tobacco campaign at school, I remember saying to a stranger smoking in a parking lot, “Did you know that’s bad for you?!” Of course he knew. I haven’t fully grown out of this impulse. I know it’s not God’s plan for every single person to serve a full-time mission, but I loved my mission so much that I mistake my joy for God’s agenda and find myself nudging everyone around me toward missionary service, regardless of what they tell me about their wants and needs.
Full-time missionaries can fall easily into this trap. A missionary’s purpose is to invite people to change their lives. I believe in the message our missionaries teach. I believe it is for everyone. I also believe that this message has no power unless people choose to accept and live it themselves, by their own free will, with no manipulation or pressure. So many times on my mission, I wanted to pull my investigators out of bed and march them to church. That attitude is so different from the way of the Savior: Jesus wants to entice us out of bed with the smell of cinnamon rolls baking (or slightly stale sacrament bread, as the case may be), and the sound of laughter coming from the kitchen. He actually does know what’s right for us, and even with that perfect knowledge, he leaves us with our full agency. He lets us make mistakes, all the while standing at the door waiting to give us directions whenever we’re ready to ask. It’s hard for me. Really, really hard sometimes. But I want to be more like Him. I want to cultivate the humility to understand that God knows my spiritual siblings’ needs better than I do, and the charity to love without judgment, the way Jesus loves them. I want to be a friend, support, and good example to everyone. And I want to let Him be the Savior.
Image: Christus bei Maria and Martha. Jahrhunderts under Mitwirkung von Jan van Kessel. [public domain]