A Reliable Pattern

Beginning with a good pattern makes a difference in what happens next.

The Spoken Version

Listen to an audio version of this reflection.

The Scripture

Matthew 5:44-48 as interpreted by Deborah

Jesus spoke to the crowd, “I say to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

“If you love those who love you, what is the benefit of that? Even loan sharks do as much. And if you speak only to your kindred, what are you doing more than others? That’s the way the worldly behave. Instead, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Photo of a flower

A Reliable Pattern by Deborah Beach Giordano

Short, Stylish, and Easy to Care For

messy hairAfter determining that my current hair situation (it could not be called a hair style by any stretch of the imagination) was intolerable, I arrived at the hairdresser’s clutching a photo of The Perfect Haircut like a lifeline. “Short, stylish, and easy to care for” the description promised. Here was my salvation: no more grimacing and grumping in front of the mirror for me: a quick once-over with a comb in the morning, and I would be the picture of glamor and elegance all day.

We are a naturally hopeful race, we humans.

This is not to say that the description was dishonest, or the cut inferior. Theresa was marvelous: the finished product looked just like the photo, and I was delighted with the results. And, as predicted, my hair was easy to maintain and looked quite nice…. for the first couple of weeks.

Time marches on. Hair grows — and mine grows especially fast.

About Day 14, the style was not what it had been. Straggly in places; a bit unkempt.

Days 15-18: My "stylish" look steadily became a “dragged backward through a hedge” look.

Day 19, with nearly three weeks before my next hairdresser’s appointment, I took matters — that is, scissors — into my own hands.

Just a Little Off the Sides

Monkey BusinessThere’s a scene in the Marx Brothers’ film Monkey Business in which the boys are stowaways on a transatlantic liner, and Harpo and Chico have hidden in the barber shop. A ship’s officer with a luxuriant mustache comes in for a trim. If you don’t know the outcome, you can probably guess it.

In the immortal words of Chico: “I think that’s ah one-ah snoop-ah too much.”

Standing before the mirror, scissors at ready, I hesitated. There are significant precedents that these events will not end well, beginning at age three, when I presented my mother with a handful of my curls that I had hacked off using her sewing scissors. Yet, there is always hope…. accompanied by the conviction that “it can’t look any worse.”

And so: Once more into the breach, my friends.

Following the Pattern

In truth, the result was not as bad as Harpo and Chico’s hatchet job on the poor ship’s officer, nor was it salon-perfect, but the finished product was not too bad. Guided by the original pattern and years of watching Teresa in the mirror, cautious in my trimming, I succeeded after a fashion.

As many of you know — some, by experience, the history of self-barbering is one of uneven bangs, erratic layering, unintentional mohawks and mullets, razor burns, broken dreams, and tearful regrets. “Not too bad” is rather glowing praise, though I say it myself.

haircut in progressOf course, when all else fails, we can take comfort in those enduring words of wisdom: “It will grow out.”

And so it goes. In a matter of time, our faulty snips and clips vanish beneath new hair growth. Unfortunately, so, too, do our “perfect” haircuts.

"The difference between a good haircut and a bad one is two weeks." ~ conventional wisdom

No Difference?

"God sends the rain on the good and the bad alike."
  ~ Matthew 5:45

Does that mean there isn’t any real, significant difference between what happens to the good and the bad? Is that what Jesus is saying? People succeed or suffer, regardless. … and it’s all just random chance?

The difference lies in how the good and the bad conduct themselves when it rains (and when the sun shines). “Stuff” happens, storms arise, troubles occur in every life; what matters is how we respond to these challenges. Do we bless or do we curse? Do we help and heal — or do we damn and damage? Do we plop down in a puddle and cry and complain, or put on our boots and start piling sandbags?

It’s not the kind of person we are that affects whether storms come — it is the kind of person we are that affects what we do when storms come.

Now and In the Days to Come

Our good works and our bad ones can have immediate results, and they can influence future events as well. Just as there is a difference between a good haircut and a bad one; each will be different at the outset, and, though they both will grow out, there will be a difference in how they grow out.

Bumble, the abominable critterBecause I was able to follow the outlines of Teresa’s styling, my version was passable: not identical, but a fair imitation. If I had started out on my own, with no pattern to follow, God only knows what my hair would have looked like. History indicates that it would be something between “unique” and “abominable.”

To do well in our lives, we need a trustworthy pattern to follow — that we may bless and be blessed. This will be different from what the culture promotes, for the Way of Christ is very different from the way of the world.

A Holy Pattern and Path

"If you love those who love you, what is the benefit of that? Even loan sharks do as much. And if you speak only to your kindred, what are you doing more than others? That’s the way the worldly behave. Instead, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
  ~ Matthew 6:46-48

The Lord Christ’s teachings are completely opposite to our culture’s insatiable cruelty and destructive criticism. In this passage, Jesus calls forth abundant compassion and understanding; telling us, His disciples, that we are to connect with, engage in conversation with (and, hence, are kind and compassionate towards) those who aren’t our “kindred spirits.”

bursting the bubble

This means getting out of our bubbles and entering into communion with those who are not “like us”: those who look different, who sound different, who hold different views; those we disagree with, or think we dislike. Jesus tells us that we are to open our hearts and understanding to those who are apparently unlike ourselves: we are to reach out, rather than attack or avoid those not of our “tribe.”

Anybody can hate and despise, ignore and scorn, and even seek to destroy others — and plenty of people do: it has become the way of the world. Christians, on the other hand, are to follow a profoundly different, utterly opposite way, shaping ourselves on the pattern exemplified and taught by our Lord Jesus: the Way of kindness and mercy, of grace and generosity, restoration and renewal.

This brings us directly to one of our Lord’s most well-known teachings:

"Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven."
  ~ Luke 6:37, Matthew 7:1

Christ-followers stand up for God’s way — but we do not stand in for God. Only the Eternal can judge ultimately; the final analysis, when all is literally said and done, is between the soul and its Maker. In the meantime, we bring the Good News of a holy Path — a divine pattern — that leads to a life that blesses and is blessed. It is the gift of salvation: rescuing those who are trapped by the constricting hate and fear that the world imposes, and freeing them to live fully, hopefully, faithfully, joyfully.

Risen Christ

Beloved and loving Lord Christ, Give us the faith and the courage to stand against the world’s cruelty and hatred, and to follow Your Way of goodwill and grace in all that we say and do, all that we hope for and believe in; that we may abide with You, now and forever.

The grace of the Lord be with you and within you,


Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Make Christ’s Way of joyful and abundant life the pattern that you follow.