(and this may be evidence that I’m just watching too much netflix & a great rationalizer!)
These three remain: faith, hope, and love.
But the greatest of these is love.
I have a new friend named Glennon.
This week, I’ve been reading her book, Carry On, Warrior. I don’t quite agree with everything she says in it, but I don’t quite agree with all my husband’s convictions either, so it doesn’t bother me much.
She talks an awful lot about truth-telling. She invited anyone who wanted to tell some truth on the internets to link it up with her site, momastery.com, all to coordinate with the release of the paperback of her book. I’ve felt sort of ambiguous about this, because I feel a little bit like Anne Shirley when Rolling’s Reliable takes over her novel, but a big enough part of me wondered if I might just not want to say something too truthy that I’m here.
So, here is my trust fall:
I struggle to believe that God loves me (and I’m a priest).
We live in an accomplishment-oriented society; our culture tells us that we have to achieve to be accepted and loved. Popular interpretations of the parable of the talents don’t help–“If you don’t do your very best with all the ‘talents’ you’ve been given, you’ll be called lazy by God and thrown into the outer darkness!” (Matthew 25) This leads us to despair when we don’t think we’ve done enough, and it leads us to toxic amounts of achievement (perhaps especially at elite institutions *kicking hornets nest* *still wearin’ my duke blue devil horns headband*).
My broken understanding of love often leads me to over-function for others–thinking, hoping, desperate-to-believe that if I do enough for someone, she will give me love. This is a dangerous belief for a priest to have–there’s always plenty to do for your congregation to try to earn their love, and even more so, there’s always more you could do for God. The voice of fear in my head accuses me, “You’re lazy to not stay until the very last parishioner goes home.” “A truly devoted priest would do ALL THE THINGS before leaving for the night.” Of course this tempts me into thinking that everything depends on me (when really, everything depends on GOD).
Earning love isn’t a thing. If we’re motivated to do good deeds or to go to church or to work hard because we think that it will help God will love us if we do them, then we’re missing the whole point of Christianity, and the whole point of love.
Love cannot be earned. Love cannot be lost. Love is a choice.
Doing bad things doesn’t ever make us unlovable (to God). Making “wrong” choices doesn’t set us back on God’s love-o-meter. Because the love that we show each other is always broken and imperfect, our understanding of who we are in God’s eyes can get messed up.
Even when we doubt God, or ridicule him, or turn away from God all together, he doesn’t leave and he doesn’t stop loving.
Today is Maundy Thursday. At the Last Supper with his disciples, Jesus gave his followers a mandate – to love one another (John 13). Tonight, in churches around the globe, people will gather to remember this event again. Throughout the following hours, Jesus showed his disciples, and the whole world, what it means to love.
As people mocked him, 42 “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” (Matthew 27:42-43) Jesus stayed on the cross. Even when his companions abandoned him, he stayed there, bleeding and hanging. Jesus stayed.
Jesus, the Son of God, God himself, stayed with humanity. God came, and God stayed, no matter what people did to him. God still comes, and God still stays with each of us.
My calling as a priest isn’t to be the perfect example of love any more than it is the call of every person to love. We’re all witnesses to God’s love by the very fact and miracle that each of us exists. My calling as a priest is to listen with other curious people, to sit and stay with suffering people, and to offer Jesus as healing for our brokenness.
This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!
original artwork by Roger Hutchison
I had a cold. Often, when people have colds, they clasp their hands together during the part of the church service when everyone else is reaching out to each other–the Peace (Romans 16:16, 2 Corinthians 13:12, 1 Peter 5:14)–and say, “Oh no, I’m sick. Don’t want to infect you!” or, holding up a hand as a stop, “Don’t touch me, I’m sick!”
Four years, ago, at an early morning weekday Eucharist, I did exactly that; “No no, I have a cold, don’t get too close!” And my friend ignored me. He said, “If we can’t share the peace whether we’re ill or not, what can we share?” And he gave me a hug.
That’s being a vessel of God’s love to each other.
Both before and after that moment, I took classes with this friend. We probably had dozens of other conversations, but I don’t specifically remember any one of them, just that one. Though I haven’t seen him in years, I still remember that moment, and anytime he’s mentioned, that’s the one thing I recall.
May we all being such willing vessels of God’s love.
Do you ever stop yourself from doing something good, because you know there’s something better that you could do? (and then, end up not-doing the better thing and do no-thing instead?)
In The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin uses the example of her friends’ birthdays: she’d mean to send them a card, or call them on the phone, but either the day passed and she forgot, or pulling out stationery and finding a stamp, or digging up a phone number just was too high a barrier, and she’d let another birthday–and another chance to connect–pass by.
Her dilemma hit home for me: if I couldn’t think up some clever or especially meaningful thought or wish to share on a friend’s facebook page for his or her birthday, I just said nothing at all. My mind got used to ignoring the little birthday candle at the top of my newsfeed every day.
Rubin swallowed her pride, gathered all the pertinent birthdays into a program with requisite email addresses, and vowed to send an email to each person every year on their birthday. Sure, a card or a phone call would have been “better,” but if the barrier to those actions was just high enough to keep her from completing them, an email was definitely better than nothing.
On my birthday earlier this year, I noticed that it wasn’t the clever memories or sayings that delighted me as well-wishes showed up on my newsfeed all day. The messages that surprised and delighted me most were from those people with whom I hadn’t had contact over the last year, but who took just long enough to notice that it was my birthday, and to write two or three words on my wall. Just knowing that they’d thought of me warmed my heart and I started to see what it is that’s meant when we say “it’s the thought that counts,” or “90% of life is showing up.”–I’m often tempted to think that something’s got to be personalized, or super creative, or fantastically complex to be a good gift, or to be a job well done.
In and of ourselves, who we are when we’re just sitting on the couch, our very presence–that’s plenty for most people.
God created us to be fantastic, personalized, creative people just as we are, without energy-sapping window-dressing, complicated choreography, or intense planning. Just sitting on the couch, doing nothing, “contributing” (in an economic sense) nothing–we’re plenty.