Taking thought for people around you would seem to be a virtue Christians are quick to practice. In scripture, we’re commanded, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt. 22:39, NIV). It’s repeated in Leviticus, the Synoptic Gospels, Paul’s letters, and James. We have adequate testimony that God wants us to love others, yet Christians pass by one another regularly without a thought.
A busy pastor only half-hears a church member who tells about a personal crisis; he’s thinking about an important meeting tomorrow evening. A deacon asks for a minute to explain what the board of deacons wishes to do, but it takes twenty minutes. The minister’s mind wanders off to a scheduled event he doesn’t want to attend.
Pastors aren’t the only Christians who fail to be thoughtful and considerate toward others. The member who always seeks attention accosts a weary elder who dismisses what she says by answering, “We’ll look into it,” although he has no intention of investigating her concerns. The Sunday school teacher, with thoughts about her cousin’s illness weighing on her heart, gives scant attention to Amy Brown, a student with learning disabilities who’s excited about a little accomplishment. Thoughtlessness happens all the time in church.
Why not? We’re humans, too, and people (whether Christ’s followers or not) are prone to believe that what they’re thinking at the moment trumps whatever another person contemplates. Listen to the spin Ralph Waldo Emerson put on the matter: “To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men—that is genius.” Apparently, he felt people rose to a good height by considering their own ideas superior to others’ proposals. Thoughtfulness toward others is not a spontaneous human reaction. We have to choose it.
With the advent of Facebook, Twitter, and blogging—indeed, the internet itself—the private thoughts, plans, dreams, wishes, and idiosyncrasies of individuals has risen to a new level of importance. We have greater opportunities to be heard, but also to consider our ideas as better than other people’s thoughts. Pride and arrogance have new venues for expression, and we see it regularly in what people post on blogs or tweet about. We seem to believe others care about our self-expressions, that they want to read our jottings, share our thoughts. Yet much of what is written shows a reckless disregard for neighbors and friends alike, thoughtlessness.
Christians can raise the level of thoughtfulness for the feelings and dreams of others nearby, just as their labor at food banks and soup kitchens shows compassion for the needy. We can join our voices with the unselfish voices of non-Christians when they speak with compassion for others. We can, at the very least, think about the folks who walk beside us or around us on the streets of this planet. Thoughtfulness, sympathy, attention to detail, kindheartedness, and like attitudes ought to characterize our discussions, our Bible studies, our prayers and meditations that are published on the web and elsewhere. Thoughtfulness is a Christian calling.