As soon as I walked into the classroom I felt all of their eyes on me. I didn’t blame them. I didn’t talk like them, walk like them, or dress like them. I didn’t even look like them! My pale Northern European complexion stood out among them like a highlighter in a sea of ink. I smiled at them with a confidence I didn’t have and with a warmth I felt only in the muggy weather. In honesty, I would have admitted I was afraid of them and what they thought of me. These Indian boys and girls had scarcely been beyond their own neighborhoods, and here I was, a Westerner, standing awkwardly in front of them with only the faintest idea of what God had in store for us.
All of my fear was totally misplaced and I was very quickly put at ease by the hospitality that seems baked into the Eastern cultures. I was offered food, drink, a place to sit, deference, and more respect than I was used to back at home. The fear I’d felt at first was subtly being overwritten by something far more real and far more deadly. I was experiencing the privileged power platform that comes with being a white man from the West. The water I drank was purified, unlike the questionable water of Haryana. The food I ate was from restaurants, unlike the very humble home cooked meals provided in the villages. The sheets I slept in my hotel room were linens that the massive majority of the country would never touch.
All of this set me up to live a totally unfamiliar, dissimilar existence from that of nearly everyone in the world’s second largest country. Beyond all of these creature comforts, the most distancing experience by far was that the Indians themselves seemed content to put me on a pedestal. I was waited on with particular eagerness, looked to for particular guidance, deferred to with an unusual amount of respect. The closeness I wished to share with my fellow human beings from India began to feel farther and farther away as time went on. Yet the worst part of it was that I secretly loved the special treatment.
Our human inclination is to build stages, pedestals, idols. “The human heart is a factory of idols,” said John Calvin. What becomes particularly deadly is when we’re made into the idol! This is because no matter how virtuous we think we are — our flesh inclines us to enjoy the special treatment at the expense of our fellow human beings. The only thing that can save us is a Father who shows no favoritism, but rather gives His love freely to both the prodigal and the rule-follower, the wealthy and the destitute, the powerful and the powerless.
It is a refreshingly liberating thing to “empty” yourself of all preferential treatment — and take up the washbasin of real service. Try it this week with those closest to you. You just may stumble upon the meaning of your life.
Pastor of Young Adults
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