Birthdays are fun. Or they can be, as long as you are under forty! After that, for some reason, some of us prefer they didn’t exist!
There are some birthdays that are more special than others. I remember all the glamour of becoming sixteen. The year I turned sixteen was the same year that Ringo Star released his famous song, “Sweet Sixteen”. He couldn’t have coordinated it any better, because there was at least one sixteen year-old who felt very special!
Other than this, however, being sixteen didn’t make me feel any different. The year went by just like usual, without any special charm. Everybody around me in the streets of Oostende treated me the same: with indifference and sad faces. It didn’t matter for them whether I was sixteen or a thousand! Who was I any way? A tiny speck in a sea of faces?
This year my oldest son celebrated his sixteenth birthday as well, except it was a couple of years after mine (maybe I’m stretching the truth a little…I can’t help it, I forget easily!) He wasn’t able to share this special day with his family, however, because he was in Kenya on a mission trip at the time. As parents we worried if anyone would go out of their way to make the day special for him. After all, it’s not every year that one turns sixteen!
Our worries were unfounded. He was greeted with open arms, and his birthday was celebrated with not just one cake, but two! The entire orphanage attended the first celebration. More than seventy people hugged my son and made him feel special. They even cut the birthday cake with a machete. Very unusual, don’t you think? He then went back to the university where he and the missions team were staying and had his second cake, specially hand-made in the shape of a heart by one of the missionaries. Sweet sixteen…
He didn’t have to deal with the indifferent, sad faces, either. He found himself surrounded by bright smiles on the streets of Nairobi. The local people would talk with him, put their arms around his shoulder, and even ask him to take their picture to remember heir friendship by. We sure could learn a thing or two from these friendly Kenyan people.
If only we could put to practice one of Jesus’ golden rules: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt 7:12 NIV)
Do we really need to walk with sad faces to feel accepted in our society? Would breaking the norm really be an insult? Or could it be that being different by smiling once in a while might cheer up someone in need? Do we really need to act indifferent to be part of our society’s mentality? Would others be repulsed if we showed genuine care? Is it possible that we could bring hope by daring to be different?
Wouldn’t treating others the way we want them to treat us revolutionize our world? Wouldn’t real love make people stop in their tracks and ask themselves if there really is more to life? Wouldn’t loving others like Jesus does does open the doors wide to the greatest piece of news ever, that God loves us? That He loves us so much that His Son willingly sacrificed Himself, so that eternity could be made possible for us (See John 3:16)?
We don’t need to treat others the way they treat us. We don’t need to walk our streets the same way others do. We don’t need to be indifferent to fit into the mould. We must remember that we are different! And we can be proud of that! Jesus came into our lives and ever since we have abundant joy bursting from our souls. We shouldn’t hide it. Instead we should let it bubble out into our lives. Only then will we, just like the people of Kenya did for my son, make a difference in our surroundings.
“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.” (1 Peter 1:8 NIV)
“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35 NIV)
I wonder where my younger son will celebrate his sixteenth birthday? We want it to be memorable… Iran perhaps? Maybe. What about Sudan? Possible. Hmmm, I better think about that one…
(To view the entire “Nairobi, Here I Come!” devotional series, please click here.)