By Bishop Jonathan Holston
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it. ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”—Matthew 22:37-40 (NIV)
It has been said that “when spoken together at just the right moment, there are two words that have amazing life-changing power.” These two words possess the capacity to breathe into us new life, to lift burdens and calm fears as well as to inspire hope.”
The words to which I refer are simply: I understand. After the basic human needs of food, shelter and clothing are met, one of the greatest needs of humankind is the need to be understood.
Think about it in this way: What happens when you are in a serious disagreement with your spouse, children, in-laws, employer, neighbor or (fill in the blank)? Probably, you find yourself rehearsing speeches in your head while you work, driving, pumping gas, shopping for groceries or lying in bed at night. You play out the different scenarios in your mind and think of the clever things you plan to say the next time the issue is discussed. One of the reasons you do this is because you want people to understand your point of view. You cannot stand thinking that people with whom you share a conflict with do not understand your position. In fact, you are determined to enlighten them even if it is the last thing you do!
Give this a thought. What happens when you feel unfairly criticized? Don’t you rant and rave about all the things your critic(s) just doesn’t understand? They do not understand the pressure you’re under, the unpopular decisions you’ve had to make or the many situations you have to manage, as well as the journey of your life.
Another thought would be to consider what happens when you are lonely, depressed or possibly grieving and somebody tells you to snap out of it. Your instincts tell you to mark that person as insensitive and having no understanding of what you are going through.
I believe that some of the most frustrating times in life comes when we desperately need understanding and cannot find it. That is why the words “I understand” are so powerful. These words are a lifeline and a sigh of relief to many who find themselves in the tough occurrences of life. Truly, it is an awesome feeling to know that someone understands.
Several years ago, I watched “The Antwone Fisher Story.” It was about a young man named Antwone Fisher who after 33 years was searching for his life. His father had died before he was born and his mother abandoned him as a child. He grew up as a foster child in Cleveland, Ohio. Now, as an adult, he was seeking to find his family.
Equipped with the name of his father and a Cleveland phone book, he began calling people with his last name. On one day in particular, an aunt answered the phone and changed his life. He told her of his date of birth and his father’s identity. He shared the difficult twists and turns of his life. She shared with him that he had a big family that could love him. He was invited to a Thanksgiving family dinner and embraced by a lot of love. They also helped him find his mother’s brother, who in turn took him to her apartment.
As Antwone traveled with his uncle, he rehearsed the questions he had for his mother: Why didn’t you come for me? Didn’t you ever wonder about me? Didn’t you miss me at all? As the door to his mother’s apartment opened, he saw a frail lady that seemed worn from the struggles of life.
His uncle announced his name to her, and she left the room. Later, she shared the story of abuse, hurt and struggle. He shared with her his life story. He never asked the questions he had prepared. It was at that moment that Antwone began to understand.
As we launch the South Carolina Conference’s participation in the Imagine No Malaria Campaign, I am sure there is much to understand. On the continent of Africa, malaria claims many lives. Yet it is beatable, and United Methodists in South Carolina will lend a hand in the elimination of this terrible disease. When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, he clearly understood the question. He answered that we should love the Lord our God with all of our heart, with all of our soul and with all our mind. He said that was the first and greatest commandment. Then, he said, the second is like it, “ to love your neighbor as yourself.”
As we seek to raise our goal of $1million dollars for Imagine No Malaria, we clearly understand we are doing it for our neighbors.
By Bishop Jonathan Holston