Before Nehemiah traveled to Palestine to assist in rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem, he served as the “cupbearer” to the Persian king. One morning the king noticed an unusual sadness in his servants face, so he asked, “Why is your face sad though you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of heart.” Nehemiah confessed that he had just heard about the deplorable conditions his fellow Jews were enduring in Jerusalem. The story told in greater detail in Nehemiah 2 offers two important reminders for us.
First, our own experiences effect the way we look, act, and talk. Fatigue and stress deplete our patience. Conflict at work may lead to increased conflict at home. Physical illness can alter our personalities. Often we think we are coping or hiding the issues of our lives, but others may see the changes or even misinterpret the tip of the iceberg they see.
Secondly, as we interact with folks at home, work or church, we need to remember that we have little idea of what is really going on in their lives. Struggles with a teenager, a spouse’s medical issue, financial insecurity, or guilt over a past sin may be putting a frown on a normally smiling face. Erroneously, we assume that these changes must be directly or intentionally directed at us.
Christians must learn to practice unconditional love in our interpersonal relationships. According to 1 Corinthians 13, this calls for such things as patience, kindness, courtesy, forgiveness, and endurance. The next time someone passes you without speaking or is curt in their response to your greeting, try to sense their pain and assume the best.