I heard the familiar clinking against the metal gate at the end of our driveway. Peering through the window, I saw her standing on the sidewalk. Waiting.
She came fairly often — maybe once or twice a month. Most times, it was inconvenient. I usually had a pot of boiling water on the stove or kids in the bathtub. Sometimes I jumped up to greet her; too often, I exhaled a loud sigh. I saw her as a nuisance. An interruption.
Every time Angela showed up, there was less of her. Tattered clothes hung loosely from her body like the dark circles under her eyes. Her face was as worn and tired as her baggy shirt. She smiled weakly, but her eyes were sad. Pleading. Desperate.
She came asking for food—a common occurrence in our suburb just outside Cape Town, South Africa. Growing up in small-town, Midwest America, I rarely locked my front door. There was certainly no metal fence surrounding our property. But South African culture and crime rates told me I needed a gate. My self-made culture of fear kept it closed.
Whenever Angela appeared, I asked her to wait outside the gate while I rushed back to my kitchen to see what I could spare. I packed a plastic bag full of non-perishables and fresh fruit, walked back to the end of the driveway, and raised the bag over the gate. As Angela reached up in gratitude, I smiled and wished her well.
As I watched her shuffle away, it was easy to have pity on her—and consequently, to feel pretty good about myself. I had been generous. I could pat myself on the back for doing my good deed that day and be grateful that I was the one handing out food, not begging for it door to door.
I could go back to the boiling pot in my kitchen, prepare a hearty meal for my family and still have leftovers for tomorrow and snacks in between.
Thank goodness I’m not Angela.
Suddenly I was struck by my pride. With that single thought, I elevated myself in importance. I deemed myself more worthy of something—what, I was not sure. God’s favor? Material bounty? Comfort in this life? Whatever it was, I mentally declared myself “better than,” and Angela has become “The Other.”
And nothing could be further from the truth.
Jesus’ words came to mind: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
By heaving an irritated sigh when I heard Angela clinking at the metal gate, was I showing love to her? Did I love her as I love myself? Or was I merely appeasing her request so I could get on with “more important” things—like serving my family?
My interaction with Angela caused question marks to appear in my mind. I recalled the man Jesus told the parable to of the Good Samaritan who “wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” I asked myself a similar question—who is my family? Who am I obligated to serve?
The answer I landed on came from Genesis—“ So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
As a member of the human race, I am created in the image of God—and so is Angela.
We are the same.
There is no “me” vs. “her,” no “has” and “has not,” no “one” vs. “the other.” There’s just the image of God. And yet I stood on one side of the gate and made her stand on the other, and I saw the image of God as a nuisance. An interruption. A reason to be peeved.
What would’ve happened if I had opened the gate?
A version of this story appears in the book, Craving Connection: 30 Challenges for Real-Life Engagement. Learn more at http://www.cravingconnectionbook.com/