So yeah, the trials continue…this time it’s not cars, boils, subzero windchill, or money…its mother nature. We’ve had a whole winter’s worth of snow in four weeks, about 40 inches of snow. I’ve always thought that living up here in the great white north keeps out the riffraff, that you have to be built of sturdy stuff to with stand the winters here…in the hope that it would also help build strength, character and a sense of humor. There is something to be said about gearing up for subzero temps, shoveling out so I can actually get my car out of the garage and face the treacherous black iced roads even before I get to work and start my day. It’s easy to whine about it, commiserate and share weather related horror stories, but it’s also an opportunity to share stories of people helping each other out, whether it is shoveling, starting a car, helping someone who is stuck etc. It is in these small sacrifices that we strengthen our ability to wield love in a world in desperate need of it.
The amount of snow seems to have slowed everything down enough to give me pause to focus on the sacrifices that love demands of us every day. Some are easy for me, extending a helping hand, or listening, and giving support, and putting other’s needs above my own. Some are hard, like trusting someone to put my needs above theirs when I am so depleted I don’t have much at the time to give, being vulnerable to accept help and while its hard to admit…making sacrifices to those outside my circle who I feel don’t deserve it, but I am obligated to help because of the golden rule I chose to follow: treat others the way that you want to be treated. I feel that simple axiom hones our ability to wield love: to accept the sacrifices that others make for me with love and to sacrifice in the name of love for others. The challenging circumstances of weather, money and physical challenges only stand to purify that sacrifice because it becomes more intentional. To sacrifice in the name of love in spite of challenges only makes us stronger.
I never anticipated using the word “hate” so much in posts about love, but here it is…I hate this year’s task, because it appears that….in order to wield love effectively, I must be whittled down to a mere wisp of myself, with all pride thrown aside (and I hemmed and hawed about the level of sharing, to keep some semblance of pride and decided, no, I am all in with this commitment). From a boil on my butt (I’ve never even had a pimple anywhere else but my face, and that was 35 years ago) that left me not only humiliated, but unable to do virtually anything, to paper cuts on every finger (it was -55 below zero with windchill after all, every scintilla of moisture gone from my body) I struggled through last week, having to make a conscious choice to get out of bed and resurrect the optimism I once had about facing the day…and I did, bully for me. I was going to title the post about it “Love and the seven plagues” but instead am just using it as a prelude to another more challenging lesson.
And so I reiterate that an interesting tidbit I learned about these silly little obstacles, in my life anyway, is that it is more often than not, that it is the “small things” that undermine my ability to wield love in the world. I am a tigress when demonstrably bad things happen. I can champion a cause better than most. I have learned to gird my loins and run into battle in defense of justice and righteousness. The embarrassing things, like those mentioned above, including but not limited to intestinal distress, and other vanity challenges have felt like a sword through my armor and it was with greatest effort that I tried to move in the world with my integrity in tact.
And then came this week, and the charge forth stopped. Every vehicle in my small family of four has just cost us thousands, within two days (in addition to the water crises and house calamities of the prior weeks). While I am thankful for Triple A, and no visible injuries…it is the very ability to actually move in the world being hindered and the financial challenges that followed (not to mention the punch the cold weather had on our business) that reminded me of all those stories in scripture when Jesus lectured us about serving God and money. It is money, the lack of it, the power of it, the injustice of it, and the corruption it brings that stands as my obstacle this week. The weight of money can cripple our ability to wield love in the world if we are not careful, and let me tell you it doesn’t matter how much you have, it may be a lot or hardly any at all. It affects each of us differently, but I have humbly learned that it can, does, and will stunt our ability to wield love in the world if we aren’t careful. The parts in scripture that I’ve held onto and so far have kept me from falling into panic are these three:
No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (money) Mt 6:24
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.Which one of you would hand their child a stone when they asks for a loaf of bread or a snake when they asks for a fish? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him. Mt 7:7-11
Now someone approached him and said, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He asked him, “Which ones?” And Jesus replied, ” ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother’; and ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The young man said to him, “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to (the) poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Mt 19: 16-22
So, the test is: where do our loyalties ultimately lie? Do we embrace the love of God over the power of money? Do we trust that when we ask God for bread he will not give us a stone? And I think the most important is when given a choice do we choose God and all that that entails (loving God, ourselves AND our neighbors) or our possessions. I am learning this: to wield love effectively and well, I must continually weigh all three, many times every day. Vanity? shedding that is the easy part…the real strength and conditioning comes from choosing God over money, every day.
So, I guess the training on how to wield the power of love has begun…with the year of a thousand cuts. By all accounts, I don’t tend to over react to life’s foibles, I’m more likely to turn them into a good story, but so far this year? I swear Beelzebub is trying to trip me up with, well there is no other word but shit (which I also stepped in, by the way). From cleaning vomit out of my husband’s car when a never before attack of vertigo seized him while driving (no flu or illness inspired), my car not going out of second gear, the front door of our clinic not opening (forcing us to replace the knob) my bed breaking in the middle of the night (3 a.m.), “someone” losing my car keys, replacing a faucet that stopped giving us cold water, bank deposits mysteriously delayed for no apparent reason and some more delicate ones that I can’t add to protect the innocent…and these are only from this week! I found myself holding my breath in anticipation of the next crisis.
While these events may seem innocuous in the face of terrible tragedies that occur every day, I maintain it’s these kinds of events that literally grab focus away from the good I could be doing and just wear me down (and I’m assuming many feel the same way I do). Things that I normally brush off seem so much bigger and crueler and in a way limit my ability to wield love in the world. Questions like, “am I being punished?” “am I just that unlucky?” and the far more irrational ones like, “is Satan lurking around here somewhere?” “am I being plagued because I’m championing love this year?” It is the compounding of these events and the bad attitude that I take that send ripple effects outward to others and voila the love quotient goes down. I went back to read some the book of Job in the Old Testament, it is involves much of the same phenomenon. The Devil bets God that he can take a wonderful, happy, successful and loving servant of God (Job), and turn him by plaguing him with all sorts of irritants. Those who surround Job try and convince him that it must have been something he had done or God wouldn’t be punishing him…still Job doesn’t lose faith. When he begins to waver, God storms in and demands answers to those who seen to know the mind of God when they fail to answer, God sets them straight…some things are just beyond our comprehension. The good news is that lesson learned, Job goes on to live a blessed life.
Wielding and harnessing love requires that we get rid of the notion that when bad things happen we are being punished by a vengeful and puritanical God. Those kind of beliefs bring out the worst in us: guilt, shame, fear, blame, mistrust, hatred, etc. And those beliefs also cause ripple effects by affecting other people who then create their own ripple effects and before you know it the whole world is in crisis and crippled to handle major crises when they actually happen. I felt like my task during this shit-storm of irritating events was to: 1) try and see the humor in it (cleaning out the vomit from my husband’s car, I was laughing hysterically when I pulled his phone out from under it all…Q-tips are amazing) and 2) not extend my irritation to other people, hence the ripple effect. I tried, with limited success to consciously fight the darkness that irritants bring with love creating a positive ripple effect that perhaps would help someone else who is facing their own personal shit storm (most of the time with laughter and a good story). While I may have simplified the situation a bit, I think the lesson I learned is the most important foundation in my year of love: that wielding love takes training, discipline, faith and the willingness to put into action the promised of scripture, which demands that we love God, ourselves and others regardless of vomit, lost keys, broken beds, doors, faucets, and shit.
Love, I already hate it. I figured since faith was one of my superpowers, I studied Theology and World Religions, I worked in ministry etc., that a year of love would fall easily into my wheelhouse. Nah, per my usual eye opening jaw dropping revelation once my task actually starts…it isn’t going to be that easy. I can point to hundreds of quotes, ideas, antidotes, lessons, scripture verses but none of them hit me as a place to start. The the quote from Teihard de Chardin that I used at my wedding kept coming to mind:
Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, (humanity) will have discovered fire.
I guess this is going to have to be more of a training exercise. How do I harness love? That is the big question…and I believe given the state of the world, there have been too far and few that are/were successful at doing so. When you compare the power of love to the wind, the force of the moon and gravity…well, I for one say we’ve been looking at the whole concept of love from the wrong direction. Because harnessing fire brought human evolution to a whole new level. Just think of what harnessing love could do. I don’t think I’m the only one who has grossly underestimated love’s power and strength. So, this year I intend to find out, and master it. I also know the first step begins with me. No one can wield love from the outside it has to come from within.
So, I get why my year of truth came before love. I don’t see the world in the same way because of last year. I can’t lie to myself or anyone else about where I begin and it isn’t always pretty. I’ve used God’s heart to augment my weak and broken one too long. I want a stronger heart…and maybe some of you do too. Let the training begin.