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Web Original

An outstretched hand

From the December 22, 2014 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel

First appeared as a Web Original on October 17, 2014.

One day at a local business, I encountered a man who appeared very intoxicated. Since he was unwilling to leave, I instinctively reached out my hand, gently inviting him to walk with me to the door. 

As we went outside hand-in-hand and sat on a low wall nearby, I silently thanked God for the impulse that had led me to treat this man with kindness. His belligerence melted, making way for a heart-to-heart conversation that was effortless and sweet. When the police came to pick him up, he went with them willingly and with dignity. All evidence of drunkenness was gone.

What took place that day may not seem remarkable. But it was undeniable to me that my small gesture was more than a human act that happened to work. For one thing, I was pretty shy around strangers—not one to reach out easily, especially in sticky situations. And this man, while not frightening, appeared dirty and rough-looking.

No human efforts could have cut through these deterrents to reaching out in brotherly kindness. But I’d been learning more about God’s love for me and everyone else through my study of Christian Science—that God is Love itself, the source of all kindheartedness, generosity, and compassion. A spontaneous outreach that instantly overruled my reticence and his unruliness had to have been God-impelled. That moment, the two of us unmistakably felt the love of Love, and responded as friend to friend.

We are spiritual, the pure reflection of Love itself.

Sometimes we’re the ones who need an outstretched hand. Sadness or anger or intimidation can leave us feeling unloved or tempt us to act in a less-than-loving way. And while an occasional arm around the shoulder helps, we often long for the reassuring sense that affection and approval are ours without condition, all the time. This hunger for love is really a deeper hunger to know God as divine Love. The Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, writes: “The poor suffering heart needs its rightful nutriment, such as peace, patience in tribulation, and a priceless sense of the dear Father’s loving-kindness” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, pp. 365–366). 

Although it’s a term that has fallen out of current usage, the Psalmist speaks about God’s lovingkindness over 20 times in prayers such as this one: “Cause me to hear thy lovingkindness in the morning; for in thee do I trust” (Psalms 143:8). A comforting hymn assures us “God is known in loving-kindness” (Christian Science Hymnal, No.76). Can we become acquainted with divine Love so well that we feel its lovingkindness consistently? 

New Testament writer John offers a way to this understanding: “Every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God” (I John 4:7). In one sense, every thoughtful act and every heartfelt response helps us feel close to God, even one with Him, and indicates our origin in Him. But immortal Love impels more than a series of isolated acts of goodwill. God shows us that Love is our very substance and the source of our identity—that we are the direct outcome of God, expressing His infinitely caring nature. This message comes to us moment by moment through the spiritual power known as the Christ.

“Christ,” Mrs. Eddy explains, “is the true idea voicing good, the divine message from God to men speaking to the human consciousness” (Science and Health, p. 332). The Christ message that good is native to us is comforting and compelling. It shows us that we are spiritual, the pure reflection of Love itself. Christ is the outstretched hand of divine Love, reminding us of our precious status as God’s image and likeness (see Genesis 1:27). “God is love,” says First John (4:8). So to be Godlike is to be Love-like. Knowing this is to feel assured of God’s care for us and of our own affection-filled nature. We are able to feel loved and act with love because we’re the conscious outcome of Love.

Christ Jesus, the man who expressed the true idea of God, which voices good, unquestionably showed us what a loving life looks like. Every one of his words and acts was selfless and compassionate, even when needing to rebuke error, and resulted in countless instances of regeneration and healing. His mission, though, was far greater than good words and works. He lived God’s love—taught it, depended on it, demonstrated it—to enlighten all mankind, then and now. And he preached the good news that this love is knowable to everyone. 

The loving influence of the Christ is as warm as the closest embrace, more tender than the most unselfish act.

Jesus’ words “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21) guarantee that Christly love is always available to be perceived and felt. Mrs. Eddy echoes this promise: “It is the purpose of divine Love to resurrect the understanding, and the kingdom of God, the reign of harmony already within us” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p. 154). The loving influence of the Christ is as warm as the closest embrace, more tender than the most unselfish act. It manifests Love in action, healing loneliness, anxiety, feelings of unworthiness—and elevating good intentions to Love-inspired thinking and living.

This Christlike impulsion rescued me again years later. A neighbor accused us of placing a play structure across the boundary of his property, and demanded hotly that we move it. My young son and I were very willing to do what was right. But disassembling it was a big job, and it wasn’t going fast enough to satisfy our neighbor.

Things came to a head when we saw him charging toward our front door, intent on a confrontation. With only seconds to prepare, I had a clear-cut choice about which to accept as true: the mortal assertion of self-righteousness on everyone’s part or the spiritual conviction of God’s love at work. Unhesitatingly I opened the door and stretched out my hand in genuine welcome. Bluster and anger faded into neighborliness on the spot, and we were given a reasonable window of time to complete our work.

What happened? I’d had no plan for dealing with conflict, and couldn’t have faked good feelings simply by holding out a hand. The gesture represented a Christly shift in thought, a commitment to seeing goodness as the only reality, in spite of what I was facing. With that conviction, nothing could have stopped me from reaching out in friendliness. Nothing could have stopped my neighbor from responding to that outreach. 

No matter what our background or situation, God is continuously showering us with lovingkindness. He is causing each of us to love and feel loved, and redeeming every unloving action or reaction. As we tune our thoughts to the Christ, “the true idea voicing good,” and discern spiritually God’s goodness, which constitutes our and everyone’s real individuality, we’ll share—and experience—outstretched hands and loving hearts wherever we are.

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