Update: a video of me sharing this story at my church is now available here.
Recently, a friend came over for a cuppa. There'd been a story in the news about some restaurant owners who'd been paying their staff well under minimum wage and making them work huge numbers of hours per week.
My friend was flabbergasted by the situation. She kept saying she couldn't understand it, and struggled to understand 'man's inhumanity to man'.
Her reaction surprised me: it didn't seem that difficult to understand. To me, it was yet another example of the selfishness that runs deep in all of us.
I felt I didn't respond to her comments very well at the time: I kept on referring to other 'distant' situations so kept the focus on 'those terrible people', rather than on how we all do this kind of thing. But I kept thinking about it and came to feel that God wanted me to raise it again with her and tell her how I saw the situation. I've been praying for some years that my friend will come to follow Jesus, but one of the main barriers to her doing so seems to be that she doesn't realise she needs him. She doesn't lie and steal etc., so she doesn't see herself as having anything she needs to be 'saved' from.
I thought I'd have to store these ideas up for a while (I'm not having visitors at the moment as part of my current resting regime), but then I realised I'd actually be seeing her twice this weekend! Martin's away on respite at the moment and this friend will be bringing me my breakfast twice while he's gone.
So, yesterday, I spent a lot of time thinking through what I wanted to say to her. What I came up with is basically this:
I've been thinking a lot recently about the story you were talking about with the restaurant owners who were paying their staff next to nothing. You seemed to find it really hard to understand how they could do that, but it didn't seem that strange to me. You see, it seemed that they were doing something not that different from what I do far too often.
They were basically being selfish. Getting all the money they could by paying as little as they thought they could get away with. I haven't done that exactly, but I do other things that are just as selfish.
For example, the other week someone wanted to spend some time with me. It turned out that they wanted to spend most of that time complaining to me about a situation they're finding really frustrating. I didn't really want to listen to that, so I kept saying to them "you just need to do xyz" and then changing the subject. It wasn't until quite a bit later that I realised what I was doing was being selfish. I was telling myself that I was helping them, but really I was shutting them up because I didn't want to listen to them.
Maybe those restaurant people were even doing something like that: it's obvious to us that they were being selfish, but they could even have been telling themselves they were helping their staff (like I told myself I was helping my friend) - after all, they were giving them a job, helping them to be in NZ etc.
And that selfishness is what I think Jesus came to save us from: from doing what works for us and not thinking (or caring) about what happens to other people.
He doesn't get rid of that tendency all at once: I've been a Christian for ages and I still have it! But, bit by bit, he roots it out. I can see in myself that it's getting less over time - although in some ways it feels like it's getting worse, too, because I'm more aware of it! And one day it'll all be gone and I'll be who I was made to be :-)
So this morning, after my friend had brought me my breakfast, I asked her if she had time for a chat. She brought a cuppa and sat with me and I said what I'd prepared. It went remarkably naturally, and she was interested in what I had to say. We carried on talking for another 20 minutes or so, and she and I both came back to the ideas I'd raised several times.
I certainly haven't convinced her that she's a sinner in need of saving (that's God's job, anyway!) but I felt she heard and understood what I had to say and was interested in my perspective :-)