Have you ever made a decision that you regret? Or, maybe someone approached and thanked you for a decision you made that positively affected their life! We may never fully know the impact or our decisions, but we do know when we have made a really bad or a really good one. The key is what we have learned from them. We hear that same theme echoed in this Sunday’s readings. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” or “let him become a fool, so as to become wise.”
What comes to mind when we hear the word ‘neighbor’? Is it the guy across the street, the family next door or the driver in the other lane? Is it the person sitting next to me in the pew, or more profoundly, is it my own family or friends? We know it is all of the above. If I get angry, peel out of my driveway, barely missing the kids on the sidewalk, barrel down the highway, scurry into the parking lot, skid past a shopper, glare at a fellow parishioner checking out my purchases, and then go home and slam my items on the kitchen counter, how many people have I offended or potentially hurt in my angry decisions? What we do and how we act, affects everyone we encounter. Pretty powerful, isn’t it?
The next time you enter your church, look around, and ponder who made the decisions that affected that wonderful environment. If you have an older church, think about the wise and not-so-wise decisions our forefathers made in the crafting of that space. Reflect on whether those decisions were made for the good of the whole, for generations to come, or does the interior reflect a lesser, more single-minded purpose. Perhaps you have a newer facility and maybe you were even part of the decision-making process. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” How often did that come into play during the making of those decisions?
Just as the physical elements of our church help to draw us closer to God, so does each of our attitudes bring comfort to ourselves and those around us. A smile and a familiar greeting goes a long way, just like the sun shining through the stained glass windows. Think about that person who thanked you for that kindness you may not even remember. Years ago, a young student who had a beautiful voice and was very shy, hesitantly joined the choir and eventually served as a cantor. Years later, he thanked me for deciding to help him develop his God-given gift, and now, in his adult life, is also a church musician. If I had ignored him, what a travesty that would have been.
We never know how our decisions affect our neighbors. Words and actions count and most decisions do go beyond our own personal needs or desires. There is an old adage: think before you speak! But when you do, think and speak with love in your heart. While it may not make your decisions any easier, they may not be as bitter to swallow, if indeed that humble pie is sometimes served.
Wettstein is director of music and liturgy at Good Shepherd Parish, Chilton.