Do you remember doing that as a kid? I think we used to take turns with who would sit in the front seat of the car so we didn’t argue about it. Generally, it’s a prized place, you know.
So I had this interesting spiritual experience yesterday that I want to record.
Yesterday, we drove to Kiev in our van as a family. This was a big deal, as usually we have rehab students with us. A guy or two sits in the front with Vitaliy. I sit in the back with the kids, holding Una, feeding her, and a guy or two or three squishes in there, too.
I kind of hate sitting in the back because cold wind blows through the side door onto me, and when we hit a bump, you literally lose contact with your seating. (This was originally a cargo van that we switched to a passenger van, so that contributes to this phenomenon.) Also, because it was a cargo van, there’s no heating vents back there– all the warmth is in the front seat.
But yesterday, I got to sit in the front with Vitaliy. I love these drives. We chat about this and that. I’m warm. I remain seated.
So, we get to church yesterday. And lo and behold, Oleg shows up. Oleg was in our rehab program a while back. His health was so poor, we paid for his hospital treatments to relieve his stomach pains. But he was so disobeying the rules and had a crummy attitude, and he left / was sent away. Vitaliy thought Oleg was on the verge of dying and had just given up his last chance at accepting God’s mercy.
But how deep and wide and long and new is God’s mercy? Oleg is still alive.
Oleg is from the train station. That’s where he lives. Ruslan was later witnessing at the station (after Oleg had left the center), and Oleg was hateful to him. (general rule: the more you do for them, the more they hate you later, it seems– except for the grace of God which can change them, and how glorious when that happens.)
So yesterday, Vitaliy talks to Oleg, and yes, he really wants to change (suppressing the eye roll, choosing to hope all things–because we have a God with whom all things are possible). He really wants to come back to the center.
Did I mention that Oleg stinks to high heaven? from his homeless life.
So … we rearrange our day. And I’m sitting in van later as we’re waiting for the girls to finish AWANA. And I know I should give up the front seat for Oleg to sit there. So he’s not in the back with the kids, stinking, etc.
But I don’t want to give it up. It’s warm, stable, and I can chat with Vitaliy.
And I start thinking, why is this so hard for me? Sheesh, over the years, I’ve happily given up thousands of dollars, my best bath towels, my husband, been hospitable in a multitude of ways. Why is it so hard to give up the front seat on one trip, for Pete’s sake!?
And I remembered Philippians 2, where Jesus took on the form of a servant to come into world and save us. And I thought:
Jesus gave up the front seat for us.
That’s exactly what He did. He had it all– warmth, comfort, deserved worship from angelic beings, enjoyment of His Father’s presence …
And He gave up His front seat and got into the cold, uncomfortable back seat for the sake of stinky sinners who tend to treat Him with hate no matter what good He does for them.
And further, I reasoned, I have the comfort of being a co-sinner with Oleg– I can identify with him, that all the bad things he is and does, I have the same sinful capability in myself, and generally I have committed sins and had consequences, too.
But Christ didn’t even have that comfort when He gave up the front seat to identify with us. He didn’t sin ever, but He took our sins upon Himself. He didn’t ever have a bad consequence from His own sin, but He bore our consequences and still does as His Spirit lives in us.
What an amazing humility.
In the end,
It wasn’t easy giving up the front seat. It sounds so stupid, and it is just such a stupid thing to struggle over. But I didn’t want to miss the blessing of giving up the front seat out of love. … After a few minutes, I adjusted to the idea. But … was I really loving Oleg or just getting used to the idea?
So I looked at the back of his head and prayed for him. Prayed that I would love him, that God would have mercy on him to save him. And if he’s come to our center to die with us, that he would be going into God’s presence and not into hell.
And I pray that my heart would be stretched so that this hospitality would become the normal size of my being. (When I have these struggles, I think about my mom and what she did so often in so many small and big ways. It all seemed and still seems to be so easy for her, to give up this or that.)