April 19th 2020
Let us consider how to spur one another on towards acts of love and good deeds.
- Hebrews 10:24
There’s one moment in my life that may remotely compare to the feelings many people are currently experiencing. It was a moment when time seemed to stand still—my future completely beyond my control. My problem could not be fixed, solved or reorganized. Exhausted from sleepless nights, my capacity to focus on anything was futile. Prayer....impossible. I only wanted to be transported out of the current mess and placed in the future. But that’s not how life works. We have to live through these moments.
Unexpectedly, my wife’s water broke 23 weeks into the pregnancy of our second child. Four days later our little girl was born at 1 lb 2 ounces, with severely under-developed lungs and a damaged brain. Neonatologists predicted a 10 percent survival rate. Forecasts got worse with each harrowing day on life support. Even if she survived the critical first week, she’d be blind with severe cognitive damage...she would not walk...play...learn...
So what does a person do when their faith waivers, their life equilibrium is disrupted and the capacity to care for oneself spiritually and emotionally is depleted? It does happen. No shame in feeling this way. That’s where I found myself. I didn’t know how dig my way out.
There’s a deeply profound verse in the epistle to the Hebrews. It’s been my truth. Scholars tell us that this ancient community of believers were persecuted, tired, weary and ready to throw in the towel.
It’s pretty clear. Our spiritual vitality and healing is connected to others speaking into our lives. Our faith might be personal—it’s not private. We need people who “consider” us and “spur” us beyond our stagnation and despair.
This virus is real and deadly. But it is also a metaphor for another truth—the intimate connectedness of all humans and the potential we possess to impact one another in positive ways. Social scientists call this phenomenon "emotional contagion." Our words, actions and attitudes actually infect the people with whom we contact. Studies reveal that receiving a simple smile or positive greeting increases our happiness by 15 percent. The next person we encounter—their happiness increases by 10 percent....and so on.
Our levels of courage, compassion, love and generosity infect others as well. This is how we can spur.
Emotional contagion has a dark side as well. “Like secondhand smoke,” says Daniel Goleman, “the leakage of emotions can make a bystander an innocent casualty of someone else’s toxic state.” Negativity, hate and scapegoating is also infectious—it doesn’t spur us towards anything good. I call these folk burrs.
Twenty seven years ago, when my life took a dramatic and abrupt turn for the worse, some amazing people “spurred” me and our family on with love, encouragement, prayer and generosity. I’m forever grateful.
My challenge this week is to be intentional about considering others and spurring those around me towards love and good deeds. I hope you’ll do likewise.
PS. And that little premature, 1 pound wonder of a daughter named Erin—she just finished her first year of graduate school. That’s a story for another day.