As many of you know, I am a deep thinker. I take notice of issues in the world and more specifically, the church, and it is simply not enough for me to watch with the eyes of a passerby and do nothing. I am convinced that church -- in both the macro and micro sense -- should be the one place people are loved and accepted for exactly who they are, messy hands and all. A place where we can lay down all the pretenses and falsities of life and just be. However, from my own experience, and attending a variety of different churches, I often find the opposite to be true.
So what do you do when you are frustrated by an issue much larger than yourself? The first step for me was admitting that I, too, was a part of the problem. This discovery has led me on a journey over the last several months and any successful journey begins with prayer. I started by simply praying to love others more. What I did not know at the time was that my tendencies toward toward selfishness and self-focus, were about to be revealed to me in a big way. The more I prayed for humility and to love others, the more I became aware of my own shortcomings. And I know I am not alone. The human race can be quite inept at love. Unbelievably brilliant minds can build machines like the the ones NASA installed on the International Space Station last year offering constant live-streaming views of Earth and yet we are bumbling, fumbling simpletons at love. Doctors have invented devices that allow people who have been born deaf the ability to hear, as seen in this emotional, heart-warming video, and yet we are like people trying to find our way out of the thick when it comes to loving others.
This led me to the second part of the journey which has been more practical, in nature. I started asking the hard questions. How do I love others the way I know I am supposed to? Not just love in a canonical sense, but with blood, sweat, and tears. I know the Bible gives us clear examples of how to do this, but let's be very, very frank here: loving others is one of the hardest and most painful things we can ever set out to do. Yet I am convinced it is the single most important legacy we can ever leave on this Earth. In my own life I have seen how forgiveness, humility, and service have effected more impactful and resolute change than all the acts of selfishness combined.
So now what? The Father has begun revealing to my heart that I need to be a part of this change I long to see. I find myself in a tug of war at the thought of this for several reasons: 1) This sets a standard of living that my fears remind me will involve failure 2) It has the potential to allow me to be under the microscope of others, affording them the opportunity for scrutiny (which is something I typically shy away from) 3) It is not a call to be taken lightly or done with half of my heart 4) It means constant dying to self. It can be easy for me to look to others viewing them as more skilled or equipped than I am for the work the Lord has called us. I see my weaknesses and assume that the Lord can't use me because of them. I often think, it would be much easier to take a back-seat in life, never push the status quo, and get comfortable in my comfortably.
I fear I will fail, and fail often; I am only human after all. I have hypocrisies that will need to be worked out. But what does God say to His children about failure? "For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again..." Proverbs 24:16 (KJV). It is not in my falling down that makes me unequipped for the work I am called, but in my staying down. And it is the Spirit that equips me, not my strengths or abilities.
Finally, I started out this journey thinking, foolishly, that the more I loved others; the more I would be liked. False. Love and like are two very different things. We live in a celebrity culture with a generation of people finding their worth and value in the number of "likes" or "favorites" their social media posts have. We glorify success and idolize people. Love is different. I can dislike every thing about someone and still love them. Love is not about being liked.; sometimes it is the exact opposite. Often times people will not notice that you are loving them. They may be so used to pursuing "like" that love is unfamiliar to them. Do it anyway. For even nonbelievers love those who love them back. Love is: forgiveness, patience, faithfulness, turning the other cheek, not retaliating, saying the hard thing when it's needed, mercy, praying for others as much as ourselves, letting God fight for us, humility, service, and dying to self. Only then can we create a ripple effect on the fabric of life and humanity.
Father help me. I can not do this alone.
*Photos taken on my honeymoon in St. John, USVI.*