Beyond the Great Wall

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I was thinking today about a woman I used to work with … Let’s call her “Brenda”.

Brenda was not very outgoing. She wouldn’t say hi when she passed you in the hallway. She wouldn’t smile when she saw you in the lunch room. She kept her head down at all times and, if she needed to engage in conversation, she was terse. It was like she had a great big wall around her heart.

One day, as I was telling my husband about Brenda, I vowed, “I am going to befriend this woman!”

From then on in, when I would pass Brenda in the hallway, I would smile and say, “Hi! How are you today?”

If it was a Monday, I would ask about her weekend.

If we bumped into each other while waiting to use the photocopier, I would ask how work was going.

If we were in the lunch room together, I’d go and chat – even though I was the one doing all the talking.

It took months, but as Brenda started to warm up, she also started to open up. Here and there, in bits and pieces. She told me that she was working two jobs, that she lived alone, and that she had a daughter who lived in another city who she didn’t see much.

What she didn’t tell me was what I could see in her eyes and what lay unspoken between her scattered words. Somewhere, at some point in her life, she had been hurt. Deeply.

One day, Brenda came over to my desk. “I need to tell you something,” she whispered furtively. “Only one other person here knows this. I’m retiring. Today is my last day working here.”

Only a couple of people knew that she was retiring. But why me? Why would she tell me?

“I wanted you to know,” she continued (I had to strain to hear). “Because you are one of only two people who were ever nice to me in the years that I’ve been in this office. I know that people talk about me. But you … you’re different.”

Please, don’t get the wrong impression. I’m no saint. Sometimes, I’d get discouraged. What is this woman’s problem? I’d think to myself. A couple of times, I gossiped about her. I wasn’t perfect. Not by a long shot. But I did my best to love her because Jesus loves her and because it was obvious that she needed to be loved.

It wasn’t until the day she retired that I realized that it meant something to her.

I don’t know what happened to Brenda, but I’ll never forget her. She taught me something important. She taught me that love breaks down walls. We don’t always know what’s going on in someone’s heart; we don’t always know a person’s past; and we don’t know what their future holds. One thing we can be sure of, however, is we are called to love.

“Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.” (John 13:34)

God calls us to break down barriers with love. It doesn’t matter if someone rejects it or if their defenses are thicker than the Great Wall of China or if we love them for years and years and they never respond. God calls us to love.

Freely. Unconditionally. And with abandon.

The way He loves us.

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