A bunch of noisy kids once taught me something unforgettable about the kingdom of God. I will not soon forget the lesson. It happened on an airplane at about ten thousand feet.

The night Pamela and I took our seats to fly from Tampa to Lima, Peru, I had reason to be concerned from the start. For one, our seats were separated. We weren’t used to that. On this flight, Pamela was seated one row behind me and one seat over to my right. Second, as soon as we took our seats, a mom and dad with three small children sat in the row of seats directly to my right.

Oh no! I thought. This is not the quiet nine-hour flight I was hoping for.

The way I calculated it was 1 plane + 2 parents + 3 small children = This could be one desperately long flight!

 Before the plane got off the ground, it was obvious to me: Forget that book you were hoping to read! And the nap you were counting on. That just went right out the door! My goal changed to simply making it through the flight without getting a migraine.

And, you may wonder, just how did those three children behave during the long flight?

Like little children! That’s how. Loud. Asking for things. Wiggly. And moving—constantly moving from one seat to another. Disruptive, to say the least.

Something Unexpected

No more than a half hour into the flight and the kids’ rambunctious acts were in full swing. Amid the chaos, frustrated, the mom said out loud to her husband, “Oh my gosh! I’ll bet these kids won’t settle down until the plane starts to land. Then, with our luck, they will probably all fall asleep. And then how will we get them all out of here and to the car with all our luggage?”

Well, don’t you know? She called it right. Spot on. Several noisy hours later, by the time the pilot announced that our landing was thirty minutes away, my stomach was in knots, and, I’m sure, so were most of the other people’s around us. Right about then, the kids started to fall asleep, one by one. In the wake of that stressful atmosphere, something happened, something I never expected but also will not ever forget.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a woman’s hand reach up toward the frustrated mom from the seat right behind her. The hand did not strike but rather gently patted the mother’s shoulder. Then I heard a familiar voice.

“You know what?” the feminine voice assured. “You … are a wonderful mother! I have watched you on this whole flight, and you and your husband are so devoted to your children and do such a good job of taking care of them. It’s not easy, I know. I understand. But you’re such a great mom!”

Immediately the overwhelmed mother breathed a sigh of relief as her eyes welled up with tears. You could feel a peace enter the space—sort of a warmth that eased the tense atmosphere. All at once I could tell the mother was affirmed and calmed by Pamela’s words. And the rest of us put-off passengers were now somewhat embarrassed at our missile-locked sense of judgment and frustration. You could feel the “thought bubbles” popping up all around.

Wow. That was not what I expected to hear!

That was so thoughtful!

Wish I’d thought to say that!

Somebody just made a new friend!

Why do I feel so guilty?

Just a Circle?

Pamela drew a circle that day around a weary mom—a circle of honor. She chose to engage a stressful setting and calm a restless maternal heart with words of love and peace. It took only a moment, but her words dispelled someone’s tension and embarrassment in an instant. The words welcomed peace, love, and even some joy onto that plane. In a beautiful way in those moments, you could feel love—even God’s love. In moments such as this, I believe this prayer begins to be answered: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10 esv).

All throughout the gospels, we see Jesus “drawing circles” of honor around unsuspecting people. He noticed the overlooked, loved the unloved, remembered the forgotten, and showed honor in the most surprising places. He drew circles of honor around

  • disheartened disciples,
  • surprised centurions,
  • a woman taken in adultery,
  • undervalued children,
  • and even a thief on a cross.

Who is it in your family, your job, or your “airplane row” today that need circles of honor drawn around them? When will the next opportunity arise for you to draw a circle?

Three Changes Honor Makes

One of the most desperately missing ingredients in society today is honor, the simple practice of honoring other people in our lives honestly, unashamedly, and frequently. Have you noticed? Sadly, we are all too familiar with dishonoring and disrespectful language and actions. It is epidemic—slamming, criticizing, mocking, belittling, labeling, and cursing. Unfortunately, honor, in too many cases and settings, is no longer the rule but rather the exception to it.

People of faith can help reverse this trend.

Paul said that we should give “honor to whom honor is owed” (Rom. 13:7 esv).

Peter took it even further when he said, “Honor everyone” (1 Pet. 2:17 esv). Really? Everyone? What about that rude uncle who drives us crazy every Christmas? What about disengaged grocery store clerks? What about mothers on airplanes with unruly children? For each of them, a circle of honor can make all the difference.

Drawing circles of honor makes people feel valued.
Drawing circles of honor changes hearts.
Drawing circles of honor brings people together.

We may not be able to change a whole world full of disrespectful and dishonoring behavior. That seems much too big a task. But our honoring words and actions can make a world of difference in the lives of those seated next to us at church, at school, and even on noisy airplanes.