by Joni Bell  |  17 November 2021  |

I was an only child for almost four years. What a blissful experience! The world revolved around me. Meals were planned around my likes and dislikes.  Any toys brought into the home were unquestionably mine; no thought of sharing ever entered my mind. My mother tended to my every need all day long and when Daddy returned home at the end of the day it was to see me. Me, me, me. What could be better? Life was good.

And then, one day, my parents destroyed that perfect existence.  

A baby was coming. And my parents insisted I was going to like having someone else to play with and share our home. Were they ever in for a surprise!  No, I was not delighted about the baby and no, I didn’t want someone to play with or to share their love. When the day came, and my parents brought my new sister home I proceeded to “act out” just how displeased I was. I rejected the new doll they had purchased for the occasion, ignored the new baby and became physically ill, necessitating an “all nighter” for them while I threw up my supper.

Are Adventists “only children”?

Special. An only child. Do we cherish that notion? What if there are others? What if God’s family has more than one child? What if we, Seventh-day Adventists, or any particular denomination, share God’s family with other children? Children just as unique and wonderful who are part of the family?  

Could it be that we Adventists are like a solitary child, feeling we are the “only” ones, “special” ones? Is that sense of entitlement really healthy? Or more to the point, is that claim of favor God’s will? Do we risk a sense of entitlement accompanied by little understanding of other’s story or needs? An attitude of “you should be far more interested in my life than I am in yours”?  Fantasies of power alongside an exaggerated sense of self importance? The temptation of “my way or the highway” with empathy sadly lacking?

I am fearful that we Adventists often behave like the “only child” believing we are God’s “special” treasure. So satisfied in our essential beliefs and making sure everyone else in the club/church is too, that we pass by the hurting world around us. Busily telling everyone how events will unfold prior to the return of our Lord (we are good at doing that) while tuning out the painful stories of those living without hope. 

Have you heard the oft-repeated humorous tale we like to share with each other? Apparently a Catholic died and went to heaven. St. Peter met them at the gate and proceeded to show them around the New Jerusalem. In one particular section of the city there was a high wall surrounding all the homes. Puzzled, the Catholic asked St. Peter why. St. Peter answered; “Shh, that’s the Adventists. They think they are the only ones here.” We laugh, but there is truth in that story that should make us uncomfortable. 

One true church

There are a number of Christian denominations who claim to be the one true church, with us being among them. Do I believe we have a distinct and special message? Yes, I do. And I also believe we have too often lost sight of what God really wants us to be doing here while we wait for His return. 2 Thessalonians 3:13 admonishes the believers not to “grow weary in doing good.” What does “doing good” mean? We “do good” when we actively participate in the world around us, making it a better place.  

Matthew 25 clearly outlines our call to share with others and engage in the world around us. When I listen to the thoughts Jesus shared, I realize I still retain something of that “only child” character. His words are those of a prophet. They are certainly more troubling than comforting. If He were among us today His prophetic word might sound something like this: For I was hungry and thirsty, but you needed to stockpile six months of food and supplies for the “time of trouble” for your family. I was a stranger, but you really couldn’t take me in because, well, strangers just don’t fit in with the rest of your “churched” friends. I needed clothes, but you had spent all your money on a boat and golfing. I was sick but because I hadn’t adopted a vegan diet you felt it was just the consequences of my “poor choices.”  I was in prison, but you didn’t want to expose your children to all the negativity of associating with criminals, so you avoided any contact with that “element of society.”

I spent some time walking in a beautiful cemetery not long ago. Glancing at the headstones, I calculated the age of the deceased and considered their time in history. I wondered if they had left a legacy of compassionate service.

So, what will it be?  Only child, or a servant among others? Yes, there are disturbing realities in our world today. Will we retreat in fear? Or offer compassion and hope?

Remnant in action

The method Jesus used to bring people to Him was to heal, feed and demonstrate His power and love, then tell them who He was. Is there a church in your community that feeds the hungry? Serve beside them. Is there an organization that ministers to those affected by crime and incarceration? Be with them. Women and families experiencing domestic violence and looking for safety? Find out who in your community assists them and go help. Who is helping the refugees and immigrants in your community? Could they use your help? You might be surprised to find out how much in common you have with other Christians. 

Back to my “only child” crisis. Things came to a “head” about two weeks after my sister arrived. My acting-out behavior needed to be addressed. My wise and loving father took me on his knee for a chat. He explained that there was enough love in his heart for both of us.  I was unique and special but not to the exclusion of my sister, who was just as dear to him as I was.  

I am reminded of Jesus’ words: “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold” (John 10:16 ESV). And also of Paul’s words encouraging us followers of Jesus to see beyond our specific cultural stories.

It took some time for me to adjust to sharing my parent’s love. But oh, how much I needed that new sister in my life! She has taught me so much about kindness, about unselfish giving and living. How desperately my little “grinch-sized” heart needed to grow.

Adventist brothers and sisters, expanding our family to love and work with different Christian denominations doesn’t diminish the truths we hold dear. We can joyously embrace our fellow Christian travelers and where they are “doing good” lend a helping hand.  

In 1960, on the south side of Chicago, an area wracked with poverty and crime, Peter Scholtes, a parish priest at St. Brendan’s, wrote a song for his youth choir meeting in the basement. We have all sung this song countless times. I think the time has come to act on its message. “We are one in the Spirit; we are one in the Lord . . . They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love . . .”

Joni Bell is a contented wife and homemaker with a dodgy past as a psychiatric nurse. She divides her time between Maine and Tennessee.

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