The middle-aged mother took a seat across from my desk in the English Literature room and said, “Kathy told me to ask you just one question.”
“She wants to know why you hate her.”
I was struck dumb, my mind racing. What had I done or said to evoke such a question? My tongue stumbled through awkward responses while my mind continued to spin. I don’t remember how the conversation concluded.
But I do remember its impact on me.
I continued to ponder Kathy’s question on the drive home. She was a conscientious, faithful student. She was 90% deaf, and each of her teachers wore a mic which communicated with her hearing implants. She had trouble speaking clearly, and social life was difficult for her.
At the beginning of every class she would hand me her mic. As she did, I was usually handing back assignments, writing on the board, connecting with students who had neglected to hand in work, and otherwise absorbed by the plethora of tasks that are part of beginning another class period. I was struck by how embarrassing it must be for a sixteen year old to begin every class by giving the teacher a mic. And I was struck by the uncaring message my scrambling demeanor must have sent to her.
Thirty years later I gratefully remember this conversation because Kathy’s question taught me a key life lesson:
As a follower of Jesus Christ I am called to ask myself regularly, “how do others experience me?” After all, Jesus lives in me! Does anyone notice?
And Jesus challenged us to ask ourselves this question. It’s there inside his declaration at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matt. 7: 20).
A soft-spoken Christian nurse said to me, “I don’t wear my faith on my sleeve at work, but once when we were going off-shift, a colleague said to me, ‘I’ve noticed that the shift always goes better when I work with you. You bring a gentle, calming spirit to everyone around you.’” She was astounded.
A pastor once told me he invited the youth group to attend the first half of a council meeting, and about twelve teens did. After they left, Facebook lit up with their disappointed comments concerning how the office-bearers had interacted with each other. He felt discouraged.
I once heard a young woman say, “I long to be part of church that smells like Jesus.” Kathy’s mom poignantly reminded me that I am called to smell like Jesus, to embody the aroma of Christ for her daughter (II Cor. 2.15).
What aroma flows from you and your community?