If I asked you to share the books that have had a lasting impact on your life, what would they be? Obviously, all of you are good Lutherans so the Bible is always number one, but what would come next? Number two on my list is Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey. I read it when I began my career as a young educator, and last summer the principals in our district gathered at Higgins Lake for our annual conference to take part in an intense training from Franklin/Covey on the seven habits. We also chose to read through the book and go over the habits in our principal regional meetings that take place throughout the state. Although it is considered by many to be a classic on the subject of leadership, it has its critics… mainly because Steven Covey was a Mormon.
This short article isn’t going to try to look at the all reasons why you should/shouldn’t read Covey’s book. It is, however, going to focus on my favorite part of the book. Dr. Covey wrote a powerful little story in reference to how we deal with those around us (especially those that can test us at times).
When my son Joshua was quite young, he would frequently ask me a soul-searching question. Whenever I overreacted to someone else or was the least bit impatient or unkind, he was so vulnerable and so honest and our relationship was so good that he would simply look me in the eye and say, “Dad, do you love me?” If he thought I was breaking a basic principle of life toward someone else, he wondered if I wouldn’t break it with him.
As a teacher, as well as a parent, I have found that the key to the ninety-nine is the one—particularly the one that is testing the patience and the good humor of the many. It is the love and the discipline of the one student, the one child, that communicates love for the others. “It’s how you treat the one that reveals how you regard the ninety-nine because everyone is ultimately a one.”
I love that last sentence and, reading it from a Christian perspective, it is easy to relate it to Christ’s parable of the lost sheep. It convicts me of my failures in dealing with the one—the person I find difficult to care for and show compassion towards. If you are like me, many times you don’t want anything to do with the one lost sheep. You enjoy the other ninety-nine. They are the mass of people who appreciate your company, cooperate instead of complain, and maybe even sing your praises once and a while. I foolishly convince myself that they are the only ones that deserve my time and attention. But my lack of concern for the one communicates to the ninety-nine how little I value them as well because as Covey states above, we all are “ultimately a one.”
So what compels us to not only care for the ninety-nine but to also treat the one with an equal amount of love and compassion? God’s love for us! “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (1 Corinthians 5:14–15). Dr. Covey’s quote means so much more to us as Christians. We know that, because of Christ’s death and resurrection, we no longer live for ourselves. We live for Jesus, and if that is the case, then we can’t help but be filled with compassion for those we find most difficult to love.
When I find myself struggling to live my life as Paul describes in 1 Corinthians, I go to my heavenly Father with words of thanksgiving. My heart is softened when it is surrounded by His blessings, and my spirit is strengthened when I am reminded of everything He has done for me.
Thank you, God, for the moments you give us to care for the people in our lives who challenge our patience… for the grace and forgiveness you pour out on us every day when we selfishly live for ourselves… for treating each one of us as your precious child despite our faults and failures… for the opportunities to reach the masses through the individual relationships we have with those we are called to serve… and for sending your Son, who left the ninety-nine to come and find me.
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