Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Where Else Would I Turn?

Love and warm-fuzzy feelings are kinda one in the same in my daily vocabulary.

I love God. I love my family. I love my friends. I love tacos. I love sunshine, and I love wool socks, especially when there is a lack of sunshine.

All warm and fuzzy {feeling-induced} types of things {for me at least].

A few years ago God began showing me another side of love, and it didn't have a whole lot to do with warm or fuzzy.

It was the kind of love that is hard-fought for, the kind that says I'll persist in loving you despite your massive amounts of junk and baggage, the kind of love that means the laying down of one's life for another's benefit.

I started examining my beliefs about love and my understanding of love when I began studying 1 Corinthians 13; I didn't really feel tugged toward studying love. I thought the whole love thing was going pretty well for me, and I'm a little embarrassed to say that every time I'd read about the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians, I'd always determined love was the "easy" fruit. HA!

I actually began studying love because the woman who has mentored me during the past several years wrote a study about 1 Corinthians 13, and she was teaching a very conveniently timed class at our church that offered childcare at the same time.

I was sold on this study because who doesn't want to study warm and fuzzy love and have their littles be cared for while doing it?!

As I began reading about love in 1 Corinthians 13 and really thinking about what things like "love is patient; love is kind. It is not proud or rude" looks like in real life, in MY real life, I began to realize it had little to do with the warm-fuzzy love I like so much.

In fact, this was the kind of love that made me want to crawl beneath the covers in my bed and hide away because who can love like that ... especially when there are preschoolers and all of the 4,534 questions during the course of one day involved?

Especially when a child is spewing deep-rooted pain out of their mouths, like little daggers of fury flying in the direction of whoever's heart is in his or her warpath.

Especially when a neighbor or acquaintance accuses.

Or a loved one wounds us.

Or stranger curses us.

Especially then, when this real kind of unconditional, I-lay-down-my-will-for-the-good-of-another kind of love seems nearly impossible.

I soon learned why love is one of the Fruit of the Spirit  ... because I, on my own, had a real hard time mustering up true, lay-down-my-will-to-benefit-another kind of love on any given challenging day.

But that's the kind of love I've felt like my heart is increasingly being called to ... because that's the kind of love that my God shows me.

We can't do love well unless we know love well.

In one of the disciple John's letters to fellow followers of Jesus, John said, "We love because He first loved us."

We know love because God first modeled this love to us. God's love is thankfully a transforming kind of love that allows us to then be better love bearers.

The more we soak in His love, the more we purposefully get to know His love, the more we are transformed by His love, the more His love comes out in our lives.

This kind of love isn't warm and fuzzy; it's a way of life.

1 Corinthians 13 love is a love that we can't muster up on our own. We need a constant connection to the Divine to be able to be loved and also to love in that kind of selfless way.

This kind of love is a call to abide, to remain deeply connected to the One who gives life.

As I wrestled last week with understanding this depth of love and how it comes from abiding, I began reading in John 6 for something completely unrelated, so I thought, to my study of love.

In chapter 6, after the followers witness Jesus do miracle after miracle after miracle, one of Jesus's Twelve disciples John, tells us about a hard teaching Jesus shares with the people who had called themselves disciples.

After Jesus likens calls himself the bread of life, he says, "Truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him." (6:53-56)

I don't know about you, but thinking of that literally kind of makes me feel queasy; I can totally see why many of the people following said,  "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?" (6:60)

Many turned their backs and no longer walked with Jesus because of this teaching, because of this call for our souls to deeply abide in His love.

Like most good analogies, this one powerfully evokes the senses and gives us concrete pictures to explain a spiritual truth: just like our physical bodies crave bread and thirst for water, our souls longs for, crave, thirsts for the goodness and true unconditional love of Jesus. Unless we eat and drink of what our bodies crave and need, they will die, just like unless our souls eat and drink of what they crave, they, too, will wither.

Jesus says the only way to love this 1 Corinthians 13 type of love is to abide, to remain in Him, the way a branch remains in a vine (John 15). In the way a branch drinks from the veins of the vine, our souls drink from the love flowing from Jesus Himself.

Soon after the crowd of followers dwindles in John 6, Jesus says to the Twelve, "Do you want to go away as well?" (6:67)

And Simon Peter, bless him, bluntly says to Jesus, "Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed and come to know that you are the Holy One of God." (68-69)

To whom would we go?

It's like Peter is saying -- yes, it's hard to understand, but where else would we turn? We've tasted; we've seen. We know you are good. This is hard, but this is it. There's no going back to just following the law ...

And for me, with this unconditional, God-breathed love of 1 Corinthians 13, it's the same. I've tasted and seen this sweet love. It's hard to understand; it's nearly impossible to muster even portions of it on my own ... but there's no going back to living off of the warm-fuzzies because this love is the bread of life.

This love is the love that lasts.

"Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away." 1 Corinthians 13:8

Thursday, April 13, 2017

When it Seems like No One is Listening

Some days I wonder if anyone is listening to me at all.

Like on Maundy Thursday, today, which we talk about after dinner, because we are trying to all understand a little more about Holy Week and how Jesus' life took Him to the cross and death and then back to life again. 

I'm asking our four kids who are living in our home a few questions about what happened in the Upper Room that Thursday before Good Friday, and they are trying to answer what they can with their ever-growing knowledge. 

Much of the time I feel like I'm the Charlie Brown teacher in my kids' lives; I try to choose carefully my words so I'm not just always talking, talking, talking ... but as a mom, I feel the need rising in my chest for all of the words I've been storing in my heart to come out in words from my mouth. 

I want them to know the deep, deep love of Jesus. I want them to feel the care and love dripping from his words and his actions as He washes their feet just before they eat the Passover feast together. 

I want them to feel in the depths of their soul the love of a King who comes to wash His people's feet. 

But one of them is singing a song about seagulls.

And another is sinking his fork into his taco bowl like a missile.

Yet another is cheeping like a baby chick.

And the last of the four, well, she's tiiiiiired ...

I read from John 13 anyway. 

I ask the best questions I can to help them understand for themselves what's written.

They answer.

And then they devolve ...

I close my bible, smile at them and resign to giving the time to God for use use in their hearts because they've heard it but they haven't truly heard it, I'm pretty certain. 

It often feels like these times I spend taking them through the life of Jesus are all for naught. 

At the end of the day most days, I decide, they only have ears to hear His love right now by listening to the way we serve with our own two hands and the words we speak in remembering His patience and kindness and love. And the way this kind of understanding of love soaks in is much akin to water spilled over on a flooded river bed ... it takes time, so much time. 

Tonight is one of those nights. I resign to sharing God's love with a gentle closure of His word and helping the kids take care of their chores and little bodies at bath time. This is not my former way. Several years ago I would have gotten frustrated and left the room sorta huffy. God has been gracious to me, and I've grown in understanding grace and love. So I muster all I can in these moments of disappointment to submit to the power of His love and just move on in love ... 

My two youngest decide to put on swimsuits and get into the bath together. They are most often like oil and water and occasionally like peanut butter and jelly. 

Sometimes they mix well; sometimes they don't, and I often don't know which way it will go. 

They are disagreeing about quite a bit during their bath adventure but I sit back and let them try to work it out. 

I move to the next room when it gets rowdy and sit on my bed while they laugh and squabble a great deal.

And then I hear my youngest boy say to his little sister, "hey, hold still; I'm trying to wash your feet ... "

She replies, "you mean when Jesus did for his siples {disciples}?"

"Yeah," he says. "So don't splash me or I can't get your feet washed."

"Ok," she resigns. "After you done I'm gonna wash yours."

They talk for a few more moments as they wash each other's feet, and I sit on my bed silenced and humbled and stilled.

Because a few thousand years later, in the midst of waiting to celebrate the greatest miracle of all, I am witness to one in my bathroom with my two small children, who, it turns out, were listening after all.