The most important lessons you learn will be outside the formal leaning structure. My second fall in college I toured the west with a singing group. Our classroom for three months and hundreds of miles was a bus. We had no privacy. We had to be with the same people for hours at a time. In a setting like that irritations inevitably surface.
One young man in the group rubbed me the wrong way right from the beginning. His name was Jerry. Usually I find it easy to like people but Jerry and I clashed. I know he wasn’t intentionally irritating but when I could I avoided him. When I couldn’t avoid him there would be friction.
A few weeks into our tour we were scheduled to sing in Jerry’s home church. When we arrived in the little town in Kansas where Jerry grew up, we received our housing assignments for the week. I was disappointed to discover that I would have to spend the weekend at Jerry’s house.. His home was clean but modest. His parents were simple, kind people. His family was happy to have him home for a while
They were kind to me. After dinner we all sang around the piano and then before bed we enjoyed homemade ice cream and strawberry shortcake. Jerry had a bedroom in the upstairs. We stayed there. There were two single beds there. As we lay in our beds before we went to sleep that night I asked Jerry, “whose bed is this?” He said; “It belongs to my little brother.” II didn’t remember meeting his brother and asked; “Where is he tonight? Jerry said quietly, “My brother died a few years ago.” Recovering from the shock of that revelation and the shame of not knowing more about Jerry, I asked; “How did he die?” Jerry said; “He drowned when he was ten.”
I expressed my sympathy to him and then we fell silent. I looked around the room with new interest. On the wall on my side of the room hung a baseball pennant and other things a ten-year-old would use to decorate his room. There crafts from Bible school, a little trophy, and awards from a children’s Bible club. It had been years and the room had not been changed. I lay awake for a while and tried to imagine the hurt of loosing your little brother. I thought of my little brothers Kevin and Nathan so many miles away. I thanked God for them and for their health. Soon we turned out the light and I drifted into sleep there in the bed last occupied by Jerry’s ten-year-old brother.
After that weekend, though Jerry’s personality did not change, I found him much easier to love. His personality was no longer a source of irritation to me. I listened more when he talked and enjoyed being around him more. Before long I could honestly say that Jerry had become my friend.
Lying in a little bed on an autumn night in the upstairs bedroom of a humble Kansas farmhouse I learned one of the most important lessons of my life. You should never make up your mind that you don’t like someone before you have first made an effort to really know him. It’s easier to put up with a person once you’ve made up your mind to like them.
(From Stonebridge Newsletter – Number 48)