Treating People Like the Image Bearers They Are
And the difference it can make
By John Stonestreet
In 9th grade, I was a knucklehead. Even worse, I was a Christian school knucklehead. Those are the worst kind. Six days a week, between that Christian school and the church that operated it, I was in the same building hearing the same Bible lessons, often from the same people. But I didn’t really have much of a faith that I could call my own.
That all began to change on the last day of classes before Christmas break in December of 1990. Now we all know what’s supposed to happen on the last day of classes before Christmas break: not much.
Well, that day, my Bible teacher announced that our boys Bible class was being sent out two by two to visit the elderly “shut-ins” of our church. I suppose the intention was to bring Christmas cheer, but as you might imagine, that’s not what happened. The only thing we wanted to do less than schoolwork on the last day of classes before Christmas break was visit old people we’d never met.
My only consolation was that I was paired with my friend Brian. He shared my disdain for the assignment we’d been given. “What are we going to do?” I asked. “I don’t want to go see any old people.”
“I’ve got an idea,” Brian replied. “We’ll go visit one person, but say that we couldn’t find the other person’s house. That way, we’ll be done fast and can go to the mall.”
And that’s how I met Ms. Buckner. She lived down a windy, rural Virginia road in a small little apartment her grandson had built for her on the end of his farmhouse.
She invited us inside, and there we were: an 11th grader, a ninth grader, and an 89-year-old widow. We didn’t have a lot in common.
Just when we thought it couldn’t possibly get any more awkward, Ms. Buckner said, “Let’s sing Christmas carols together.” We stumbled our way through Silent Night, and then she decided one carol was enough.
“Well, Ms. Buckner,” Brian said, “we’d best be on our way.”
“Yes,” I lied, “we still have one more person to visit before heading back to school.”
And then she asked, “Can we pray together before you go?”
So I prayed, and Brian prayed—that took about 45 seconds. But then Ms. Buckner prayed.
At that point, I’d been in the church my whole life. I’d heard thousands of prayers. But I had never heard anything like this. I remember looking up just to make sure that Jesus wasn’t sitting next to her, because it sure sounded like He was. She spoke to God as if she knew Him, with a simultaneous confidence and humility that only comes when you’re certain you’re being heard.
We left her house and headed to the mall, distracted by our plan to meet some girls. But I do remember, however, Brian saying to me, “She’s a cool old woman.” And I agreed.
Two years later, I woke up with the strangest feeling. Typically, I’d wake up thinking about basketball or my girlfriend, but I woke up this particular morning thinking of Ms. Buckner. And to this day, I have no idea why.
But I ended up going back down that windy road to her house. “Ms. Buckner,” I said, “you probably don’t remember me, but two years ago I came here with my friend Brian. My name is John.”
“John,” she smiled. “I prayed for you this morning.”
From that point on, Ms. Buckner became a close personal friend. In fact, she prayed for me every day for the rest of her life. To this day, I cannot imagine what she prayed me into or out of.
At age fourteen, I found myself—seemingly by chance—in the home of an 89-year-old woman I didn’t know, and didn’t particularly care to know. I didn’t want to be there. I lied to her. And yet, God used her to alter the trajectory of my life. I found out later that she had actually impacted many, many others in that community as well.
That’s what happens when you know Jesus, and treat others like the image-bearers that they are. God uses us, often in ways we can’t even imagine.