Mary Webster was a fiery red-haired lady who lived with her sister-in-law in southern USA. They were not naturally inclined to get along with one another, but they did. Their relationship was a beautiful example of selflessness – so much so, that people began to comment on Mary’s angelic disposition.
A friend (who was living a very self-centred life) visited their house one morning and praised Mary’s beautiful nature. Mary’s friend told her all the nice things people were saying about her – how she always looked after Aunt May, her invalid sister-in-law, and in doing so, was a perfect example of godliness to the community. Mary did not like the praise, and decided that she would teach her selfish friend the secret of her so-called flawless character. So, she simply relaxed and allowed herself to vent her natural inclinations rather than practising Christ-likeness.
Aunt May was still in bed, and Mary told her friend that she was always the one who had to say ‘Good morning’ to Aunt May first. Mary asserted that she was an individual and had a right to have Aunt May say ‘Good morning’ to her first once in a while – didn’t she?
When Aunt May got out of bed that morning and came downstairs, she walked past the two ladies on her way to the bathroom, but there was no exchange of ‘Good mornings’. On the way back to the bedroom Aunt May was wondering what was going on, as both Mary and her friend just stared at her and no-one said anything.
“What’s wrong with her?” said Mary’s friend. “Why won’t she ever say ‘Good morning’ first?”
Then the telephone rang – Mary complained that she was always the one who had to answer the phone, saying, “I always have to take messages. I know Aunt May can’t get around so easy on her crutches. But I have a right to my own life, don’t I?” She told her friend she was just not going to take a message, and she yelled upstairs to Aunt May, “Telephone for you!” By this time Aunt May was getting a little upset as it was difficult for her to negotiate the stairs.
The person on the other end of the phone was asking Aunt May to a party that morning. But Mary, who would have normally offered to drive her crippled sister-in-law, just ignored what she had overheard on the phone, refusing to volunteer her assistance. Aunt May knew she had heard and became more annoyed at Mary’s indifference.
Then Mary said to her friend, “I am always making the breakfast for her. All she ever has to do is to get up, get dressed and come to the table.”
“I have a right to have my meal while it’s hot. Aunt May never comes on time, and I’m sick of it,” she complained. “Let’s eat now.”
“You mean you’re not even going to wait for Aunt May to come down?” said her friend.
“No, I’m going to eat my breakfast. Besides, every single morning when she comes out of her room, I have to cook her what she wants. I’ve cooked these fried eggs and I don’t care what she wants for breakfast – she can eat these or go hungry!”
By the time that Aunt May came to the table she was visibly upset. Aunt May asked for the sugar – Mary just pushed the bowl across the table and went right on eating her own breakfast without saying a word.
After breakfast, Aunt May wandered outside to weed the garden, but she found it difficult to get up and down to the garden-bed because of her crutches. Mary’s friend looked out the window and noticed the difficulty that she was experiencing, but Mary said, “She is only showing off, and if she falls and breaks her neck then that will be just bad luck on her part.” She went on to say that she was not going to help her in any way.
At this, her friend reacted … she grabbed Mary by the shoulders and shook her saying, “I’ll tell you one thing Mary Webster; you’re a perfect little devil without Jesus Christ!”
Mary replied to her friend, “I’m glad you said that – I am a perfect little devil without Jesus. And I want you to see that it took me one hour to get this family as wound up as it is, and I haven’t said one unkind thing to her.”
Then Mary said, “Now I’m going to do something this morning – I’m going to surrender my rights. All I’ve done this morning is exert them. I’m going to give them back to Jesus. I’m going out to Aunt May and I want you to watch how long it takes for Jesus to pour oil on troubled waters.”
She went out into the garden and put her arm around her sister-in-law and said, “What are you trying to do honey – break your neck? Besides, I thought you wanted to go to that party this morning?”
“We’ll I did, but I’ve got no way of getting there,” said Aunt May.
“Well you just go up to your room and get ready – I’ll be happy to drive you,” replied Mary.
In five minutes that house was back in the love of God. Her girlfriend saw what Mary had wanted her to see – that nobody’s perfect and nobody’s a saint. You don’t have to surrender your rights, but you really are a troublemaker until you do.
Her friend saw what made the family become sour, and she saw what made the family become sweet. Mary had made it a habit to sacrifice her life expecting nothing in return – not even gratitude. Mary Webster went on to say, “If people can walk over us to get to Jesus, what greater purpose can we have in life? Jesus wants to be president in our lives not just a resident.”
Her friend went home and began to practise godliness in her own family life, with outstanding results (but that’s another story).
Excerpt from When Angry Hearts Forgive by Robert Warren – Used with permission