“God loves you just the way you are.” Fred Rogers
Mr. Rogers had a disciplined morning routine. He would arise at 5:00 a.m. every day. He would engage in private devotions – reading scripture, pondering spiritual writings such as those by his favorite, Henri Nouwen, and offering prayer for a host of neighbors in need – neighbors near and far. Then he would go for a swim. One morning, after his swim, he came across a group of people arguing about salvation. I can say this about salvation – if you are arguing about it, you most likely do not understand it at all. One man in the group was particularly frustrated that the others would not acknowledge that his way of understanding salvation was the only way. He knew Fred Rogers was a devout believer, an ordained Presbyterian minister, so he stopped him and exclaimed, “Fred, tell these people there is only one way to be saved!” Fred Rogers paused, looked at each person individually, and said: “God loves you just the way you are.”
That is so Mr. Rogers of Mr. Rogers! Was there ever a less judgmental person who walked among us in recent history? How did he get to be that way – so open, kind, affirming, and receptive? As it turns out, there was an occasion in his life when he was quite judgmental. That moment of being less than merciful, accepting and tolerant was one that changed his life forever. In her lovely book The Simple Faith of Mr. Rogers, Amy Hollingsworth tells the story of a time when Fred Rogers was in seminary. In order to craft his homiletical skills, he would often visit churches to observe how quality preachers delivered their sermons. One Sunday, he and some friends visited a well-known church in New England. As it turned out, there happened to be a guest preacher that Sunday. At first, hearing about the aged substitute orator made no difference – Fred had heard outstanding guest preachers many times before.
However, this man was less than outstanding. In fact, he was downright dreadful, in Fred’s mind. He failed to observe the most basic homiletical rules and preaching commandments. Virtually everything he said went against everything Fred had learned about preaching in seminary. Internally, Fred was incredulous that any preacher or any sermon could be that bad. When it finally ended, after what seemed like an eternity of torment, Fred turned to his friend beside him so they could commiserate over the pitiful pulpit effort they had endured. But before he could open his mouth with a barbed criticism, he noticed tears streaming down the cheeks of his friend. She turned to him and whispered, “He said exactly what I needed to hear.”
Fred pondered her reaction for a long time. Eventually, he came to understand that the chasm between their reactions had little to do with the sermon, and everything to do with each of their attitudes. He had come in judgment. But she had come in need. And because she recognized her need and was open enough to hear an inspired word, the Holy Spirit was able to translate sincerity into truth. Her posture of receptivity made all the difference.
It always does. If we come to any sermon, any song, any opportunity, any relationship, any life experience in judgment, we have actually judged ourselves, and our own salvation suffers. But if we come in need, acknowledging how far short each of us falls, and how God can use any person and any moment to gift us with grace – we are likely to receive just what we need.
We live in an age where we are so quick to pass judgement on virtually everything. We cannot fathom any response to any word that we might not agree with or fully understand that is not an immediate refutation. What a difference it would make if we approached such moments in need rather than in judgment. We might hear exactly what we need to hear. We might be changed in ways previously unimagined. And grace would abound more and more – in our minds, hearts, and world.
Do you come in need? Or in judgment?