My 4 year old is adept at all things athletic: running, jumping, climbing and has recently mastered walking down stairs backwards. I didn’t even think to tell him that it wasn’t ok, until I saw his recently turned 2 year old brother, who is half his size and not as adept turn around on the stairs to copy his big brother.
“Hey buddy, you can’t do that anymore. You need to turn around.”
“But I CAN do it! See? Watch me, Mama!”
A smaller voice pipes up, “Watch me, Ma-ma!”
“No guys, we’re not allowed to play on the stairs.” Speaking to my 4 year old, “I need you to be a good example for your little brother. Show him how to walk down the stairs right.”
I could tell what he was thinking, “this is not fair.” Because the truth was he could do it just fine, likely never having an accident, so why wasn’t he allowed to? As the oldest of three children myself, I felt my own sense of entitlement rise up in agreement, and had to stop and ask myself why do I value my individual freedom over the safety of others?
I think it goes back to the strongly held belief that we all have a personal relationship with Jesus, and what that means. In my culture, it insinuates that my spiritual walk is lived out behind closed doors, and that I should not be elevated to an example because my relationship with Jesus has nothing to do with anyone else’s.
Then I think about what Paul said to the church of Ephesus: “Therefore become imitators of God [copy Him and follow His example], as well-beloved children [imitate their father]; 2 and walk continually in love [that is, value one another—practice empathy and compassion, unselfishly seeking the best for others], just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and sacrifice to God [slain for you, so that it became] a sweet fragrance.” (Eph 5:1-2, Amplified version)
Does this look like it was written to people in a closed door relationship? Or maybe it is to children who in spite of being part of a big family have a special relationship with their Father, where they are intimately known and utterly adored.
In recent months, I have felt convicted of the individual mindset, and called back to the community God intended man living in from the beginning. I’ve had to allow the illusion of living in a vacuum to be torn down and accept that whether or not we want to be examples, to each other and the world, we are.
I’ve also had to hold that some instances aren’t fair, and that something that really is freedom for me could be a hindrance for someone else, and accept that if they get hurt by my acting out, the Father holds me responsible for it, because I loved my freedom more than I loved my brother or sister.
Even so, like my big guy benefits from having two little brothers even though it means he can’t walk down the stairs backwards when we’re with them, the value of living in spiritual community is worth personal limitation. We learn to practice empathy, and end up with it extended to us when we need it most; we learn from one another in humility and the secret feelings of inferiority and competition we experience as mere observers disappears; we become champions of one another, spurring each other on in love because we are invested in each other’s stories.
The Father has called you to be a part of this family, to open up your relationship with Him so that others may see and draw near as a result. You may be called upon to be an example, but it’s not one put on a pedestal to be aspired to. Instead, it will be as one who knows how cherished they are and so they imitate the Father who loves them so dearly.