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I recently watched the movie The Miracle Worker, an old black-and-white film starring Anne Bancroft and a young Patty Duke, that tells the story of Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller.

When Annie Sullivan, herself a visually challenged fresh-out-of-school teacher arrives in the Keller home, young Helen–who has been blind, deaf, and mute since infancy–is a terror in the home and on the verge of being sent to an asylum. Annie grew up in such an asylum and has no heart for seeing Helen end up there. She believes that she can open the world to Helen if she can just communicate–through finger-spelling–with this child.

With love, patience, tenacity and grace, Annie ultimately enters into Helen’s world, Helen’s head, and Helen’s heart. Helen learns to communicate. And the world changes in a burst of insight for the brilliant but blind and deaf child.

What was so compelling for me in the film was the lengths that Annie went to bring Helen the help she needed–but wasn’t even aware that she needed. The abuse, the hardship, the sorry, the sacrifice–all in the hope that one child’s darkness could be pierced and good could come to her.

There is one particularly telling exchange between Annie and Helen’s older brother James. He is suggesting that Annie has already done all she can to help Helen and, perhaps, it is time for her to stop trying so hard for what seems like an impossible task.

James: Sooner or later, we all give up, don’t we?

Annie: Maybe you all do, but it’s my idea of the original sin.

James: What is?

Annie: Giving up.

Now although the theology may not be right, the passion behind the idea is powerful . . . and biblical. Notice how Paul describes his labor for others in the hope of God doing glorious and miraculous things:

We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me. For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf . . .  (Colossians 1:28-2:1)

Annie was passionate about Helen coming to understand the world that was dark to her. Paul was passionate about others coming to understand what life in Christ is really all about. Sacrifice, suffering, abuse, hardship–neither of them were deterred. Annie, for the sake of knowing the world around Helen. Paul, for the sake of knowing the Savior.

The picture of Annie gave some color to how I was reading Paul’s labor of love. Labor, striving, struggle . . . all for the good of others. And it causes me to ask: Why do I give up so easily in my pursuit of seeing others “complete in Christ”?

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