Revisiting Love

There are some verses in the Bible that I hear and they roll off my back like water. Not because they are not wonderful and useful, but because let’s face it, there are some verses or passages that are used more than others. So I hear these verses, enjoy their familiarity, and let them slide by me. But some days, like today, these verses and life intersect like a drop of surprising rain on drought filled land.

In my listening time with God today I was led in a direction that brought me to a new understanding. It was a culmination of circumstances of my day where I did and did not shine, the need for re-orienting, and a reading that led me to Scripture and a new understanding.

It started with a straw that snapped the camel, my own poor reaction, and realizing that though these things do happen, my patience and maturity are developing and growing. I’m not where I was, internally in my thoughts and externally in my behaviours. I’m loving more, doing better, and seeing changes in myself that please me, despite the minor setbacks that remind me that I’m not quite there yet in my journey to be more like Christ. This knowledge gives me the courage to apologize, the ability to forgive myself and others and more freedom from guilt as I see myself moving forward instead of treading water or backsliding.

When the camel snaps I am reminded of how much I need these times with God, these moments of listening, confession, petition, grumbling, listening, absorbing, and allowing myself to be changed through God’s direction. And there are times when I am taught in new ways. Taught something that changes my views and helps me move forward into the next stage of development.

Today the thought was about Love, difficult to handle when not feeling very loving, but helpful to get me back to the place where I am reminded what Love is. It started with St. John of the Cross, again.

“When our hearts are free from liking and judging people merely according to their natural gifts we are not held captive by external and changing charms. We are instead free to love people as they really are, and we can penetrate more easily to the core of their personality, their true goodness.

When we love in this way our love is selfless and pleasing to God.

The more this kind of love grows the more our love of God grows with it; and the deeper our love for him the more we shall love our neighbour for the principle of both is the same.”

It’s so easy to love people when they are behaving how we like and in ways of which we approve. It’s easy to love them when they are charming, accommodating, helpful, funny, gifted. But what about when they’re not? That’s when the real test of our love comes in. Because, of our loving them is based on their behavior, then that takes the onus off of us, doesn’t it? If our love is allowed to be fickle, then this love is not as God wants us to emulate. His love is not like that. His love, thankfully, is not based on our actions.

1 Corinthians 13 “the Love chapter” is so familiar to many that we rattle it off without even thinking about it.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” (verses 4-5)

This kind of love flies in the face of the brokenness of other people. They will do things that make us impatient, envious, competitive, on our high horse. And our reactions will cause us to try to protect ourselves or lash out. Because we do get angry and these slights build up over time.

But this is not the kind of love God has for us. These are not things to rattle off and think “oh, how nice”. These attributes of love tell more about the person doing the loving than being loved. It shows a mature love. A love that forgives. A love that does not seek to take but to give. A love that does not keep score and grasp at winning.

As I re-read this passage I became aware that this is a sacrificial love, not in a martyrdom sort of way, but the type of love that shows that I must be changed. I must mature and sacrifice of myself in order to love others like this. Because that is what God did for me. And I believe there is peace in this kind of love because it comes from God dwelling within and not from things external.

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Bruised Cheeks

Someone bugged me today. Someone said something that rankled and hit me where it hurt. This time it was in the area of my parenting. Now, it wasn’t a shot, per se, it was that I said something to my child and they jumped in and added a comment that I thought shouldn’t be said. So I was bugged. And I still am, I have to admit.

I spent a part of today going about my business but every once in a while the incident niggled at me. It pinched and little pops of anger came into my head. Little snippets of conversation that my imagination made up of “what I should have saids” and “when I confront them I’ll” and so on. I’ve been praying and trying to temper the snit I’m working myself into because I do realize that in certain instances there are extenuating circumstances and this person didn’t mean to align themselves against me. This person was coming off of a hard week, battling things that make them unhappy and probably just reacted in the moment, trying to make everything ok for everybody so that their time would be easier.

This got me thinking about forgiveness, and in particular, the verse in Luke where Jesus talks about how we are to treat those whose words or actions hit us where it hurts.

“If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt”¬†Luke 6:29

I got emotionally slapped and thank you, but no, I don’t want to go in for another round. And I don’t think it’s healthy to be a martyr to other people’s bad behavior. But I think this verse teaches us something about forgiveness and grace. As I’m processing this situation I was in, as I’m praying and trying to temper how big an issues this really is or isn’t, I need to take myself out of seeing the other person as a boogeyman and see deeper. I need to be gracious in my hurt.

If I’m going to be gracious in hurt in a healthy-non-destructive-non-enabling sort of way, what can this verse teach me. I think this verse can teach me that sometimes people say things unintentionally. Sometimes people say things because they’ve had just as bad a day as I have and words come tumbling out when they shouldn’t. Sometimes people are genuinely trying to be kind and I’m the one whose had a bad day and is raw so close to the surface. It means that instead of having to go and ream out the person for what they said, I try to extend grace where I would hope for grace. To deliberately seek to believe all the good I know about that person instead of letting my hurt and anger turn them into something my head and heart know they’re not. It means that we give each other breathing space and realize that we all goof up and are in need of grace. That sometimes it’s just a mistake. It’s not intentionally hurtful, it wouldn’t hurt so much if my day had been different, it wouldn’t be the camel-breaking straw if it had happened an hour ago. It’s seeing that I have a measure of control of how I love other people through their mistake. It’s giving them a second chance by extending grace to them just as I pray they would do, and have done, for me.

Hither and Thither Thoughts

I’m trying to stretch myself in my spiritual readings and this means that I have begun daily readings of St. John of the Cross. I’m not really familiar with many of the early Church leaders but this book happened my way and I felt an irresistible pull towards it and coughed up the 75 cents to make it mine. It’s been interesting. Some of his ideas I disagree with and cock an eyebrow in his general direction over but some things he says strike a resonance and I spend time chewing and meditating on statements that he makes. Here was today’s.

“…the covetous man runs here and there within the limits of the chain binding his heart. Despite all efforts he can scarcely free himself even for a moment from the bondage of his thoughts, which constantly run to the place where he has fixed his heart.”

I don’t think of myself as a naturally covetous person but there’s a reason this stayed with me. During my day as I move through the motions and experiences of life, where do my thoughts go? Do they go directly to God? Sometimes. But often they go to achievement, self-indulgence, relational worries, or just general wanderings.

The phrase “constantly run to the place where he has fixed his heart” relating to the bondage of thoughts made me pause. My thoughts don’t always run to God. They run all over, like St. John describes. So what does that mean for me?

Well, It all relates back to self-discipline, in a way. It’s the things in life that I don’t control or have trouble controlling that consume me. How I deal with others in relationship, the choices I make for my personal health, fears I have over safety of loved ones, use of my time, what others think of me. These things can consume my thoughts and I sometimes find myself constantly running to these things in my thought life. So, great, another area that needs discipline. But, I have a suspicion. I believe that it’s a discipline issue but also a trust issue and a matter of choice and focus. I turn my thoughts and heart’s eye upon God and reflect these situations and issues and choices back to him. I stop, I pray, I breathe, and I start to include God in these internal conversations. I include God in the decision-making and start to realize that in directing these thoughts towards him and his wisdom and truth, I am, in essence, starting to fix my heart on him as well. Because then he becomes the locus around which all other elements of my life revolve. He is placed where he should be, at the centre of it all, the centre of my mind and heart.

Heavy but Hopeful

I don’t know about you but sometimes my heart is overwhelmed by the struggles of those around me. It may be that a friend is going through something I didn’t imagine or I receive new information that brings tears to my eyes when I think of the inner turmoil that another person is experiencing. It’s difficult, really difficult, to see the hurt and pain in others around you and not feel consumed by the intensity of the results of our fallen world. People are fighting demons and desires, flooded by fear and hopelessness and I ache for them.

There are things we have been conditioned to say “I’ll pray for you”, “God will give you strength”, and verses that we may quote, but there are times when I gaze into the eyes of a friend when I don’t know what to say. I just hurt with them. I had an experience like that today where I’ve been aching inside for a friend, a couple of friends, actually. And it’s difficult. It’s difficult for me to see their way through and I can only imagine that my difficulty is miniscule compared to theirs. But I ache, and I wrestle, and I see God out of the corner of my eye because I know he’s there but I don’t even have the peace yet to settle into his presence. I am restless, though, until I seek him. Until I sit and take him from the corner of my eye and peer up at him through lowered head and brows and sigh in his presence. Then I start to release enough to see him again.

Because when I start to see God again, he slowly reminds me of things. As I start to inhale and exhale in rhythmic acknowledgement of who he is words start to come. Maybe songs, maybe Scripture, maybe phrases. Today it was

“Chains be broken,

Lives be healed,

Eyes be opened,

Christ is Revealed”

And things don’t feel so insurmountable. I start to think about Christ and what he went through and what his dying on the cross actually accomplished and I start to remember that this fight is not mine. God sees us, sees our struggles and has already provided in his strength for our struggles. This Christ on the cross, this person who conquered these sins and struggles that are ongoing our lives, is the same one who strengthens us. We are not left alone in our struggle. Our friends and family are not left alone in their struggles. Limitless love and limitless power meets us in our weakness and strain. Gentle hands and kind eyes see us and help our stumbling feet. The power of the conquerer is offered to us and resides with us in intimate ways.

Healing and hope and restoration are promised and this is what gives me hope. Hope for these friends for whom I ache. Hope for me in those times when I feel groundless. Hope for the struggle I see everyday in this world. Hope in this Christ who showed himself to us.