The window in my office looks out over a pretty little tree that blooms with beautiful pink flowers in the spring time. It brightens my day all season to look out on this splash of color. Last week I happened to look up from my computer to the shocking sight of this tree slowly and quietly falling to the ground. Huh?!? What happened?!? It wasn’t stormy or even windy out. What knocked this tree over?
I went out for a closer look and realized that half of the tree was badly diseased. Some kind of white fungus or mold had killed off the leaves and weakened the branches. I was heartbroken to realize that the tree had been slowly dying and I never even noticed. I walk by that tree every single day on my way into work, but only appreciated it for what it could give me, a pretty view during the spring season.
How often do we do that with the people in our lives—look only at the surface? The brave face they are presenting to the world. But if we looked a little deeper, we would see sadness, pain, or worry. Obvious sorrow is easy to see and respond to. But quiet suffering takes place under the surface. The only way to discover it is by taking a closer look. Paying attention to those around us. Shifting the focus from our own lives for a little while to listen and be present to others.
Jesus was good at noticing those who were lost, dejected, and silently suffering.
In Luke’s Gospel we learn of a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years and could not be healed. When Jesus passed by, she came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. Jesus asked his disciples who had touched him and they shrugged it off, assuming it was just the crowd pressing in on him. Not satisfied with that explanation, Jesus took the time for a closer look. As he searched the crowd, the woman came up to him and fell at his feet. By her faith she was immediately healed. (Luke 8:43-48) The Gospels are full of stories like this. Jesus was all about connection and healing. He wanted to reach everyone.
I’ll never know if there’s anything that might have saved that tree. But if I had been paying better attention, I could have called the groundskeeper. He would have diagnosed the tree and possibly even healed it. It was a sad lesson to learn and one that has inspired me to be more present to those around me. To focus less on me and more on others. A reminder that everyone I meet is a child of God. Everyone is worth a closer look. I pray to follow the example of Jesus as I strive to look beneath the surface. To listen and really hear. And to serve.