love

Enough

“If only this is done, it is enough.” The story, according to the “church father” Jerome, is that the apostle John, as a very old man (the only disciple who lived long enough to be considered old) ended church meetings with the same phrase: “Little children, let us love one another.” Everybody got tired of that and asked him why he said the same thing all the time and he answered, “Because it is the Lord’s commandment, and if only this is done, it is enough.”

Now. We could (and probably will another time) talk about how John was so old and meeting together was so important that he had to be carried into church…and I sometimes don’t feel like going. We could also talk about how he was the only one not to die a gruesome death. Or that the people with him got tired of hearing the exact same words every meeting, even if it was from John, “the one Jesus loved.” You can almost hear the grumbling, “I don’t care who he is, he could at least mix it up a little, keep it fresh.”

But what we will talk about is that one small-ish word, enough.

I loved this quote when I found it and it was perfect in the message Sunday morning, but sometimes even as I’m talking, it hits in a new way, surprising me, like when my boys jump on my back when I’m not looking and knock all the wind out of me. Enough, is that even a thing?

So, I look around, holding back tears, thinking about how my shoulders slump from all of the responsibilities, demands, opportunities, questions, judgments of every day. I think about wanting to please everybody, always doing more, being more. 10% more, usually. The need to be perfect. I think about our lives as artwork, how we offer this creation of us to the world and wait for the verdict. What should I do? What should I say? Who should I be? Have we accomplished, achieved enough? Are my clothes, my shoes, my children, my words, good enough? We call our fear stress and it is brought on exclusively by this question – will I be enough?

It pounds in our heads and twists our stomachs as the voices in our own heads convince us the answer is no. As I’m standing there, this is going through my head and I want to just stop and address this thing in me.

But what I see is that it’s not in me, is it? I mean, it is, but it’s not just in me.

It’s weaved all through the passages of the Scriptures, appears throughout so much great art and history books. I guess it’s the human condition. Or the human disease. Religion hasn’t helped, saddling us with hoop after hoop of what we need to do (or not do), heavy baggage we carry. But John here says there’s just one thing, to love each other, and that’s enough.

Released from those sharp chains of insecurity and inadequacy, we just love each other, without condition, without judgment or verdict, without regard to if we are worthy or enough. Maybe then the question might not seem as important anymore, and maybe that’s the point.

This is what’s going through my head. I’ve given my life to communicating the message that you are loved, accepted, valued, worthy, enough. It might be time to include ‘me’ in that ‘you.’

It’s sort of strange to share these thoughts and emotions on social media, but it has been my experience that enough is such a foreign concept. And keeping quiet and pretending it doesn’t exist hasn’t helped anyone ever. Most of our energies are funneled into answering that big question and, afterwards, proving that answer. I’m pretty sure what John means is that those energies could be better used in other places, loving other people, loving ourselves. And that will be enough.

Crying Room

In Acts 2:14, Peter “stepped forward…and shouted to the crowd,” giving one of the most powerful sermons the world has ever seen, before or since. David Guzik writes, “This remarkable sermon had no preparation behind it – it was spontaneously given. Peter didn’t wake up that morning knowing he would preach to thousands, and that thousands would embrace Jesus in response. At the same time, we could say that this was a well-prepared sermon; it was prepared by Peter’s prior life with God and relationship with Jesus. It flowed spontaneously out of that life, and out of a mind that thought and believed deeply.”

We often make our spiritual life one of 5 (or 7) steps and boxes to check, or like there is a spiritual me and another, everything else, regular me. Spiritual me reads the Bible, goes to church, prays. Regular me goes to work, brushes my teeth, does pushups, watches The People’s Court. We refer to our work or play or relationships as somehow less spiritual because it’s not for a church, Christian ministry, or agenda. “Just” a nurse or driver or technician or accountant. We think if it isn’t specifically focused in a discipleship plan, it doesn’t count.

This has always driven me crazy. Christian ministry can be lovely and pure and tremendously pleasing to God. So can grocery stores, video games, parenting, and Catfish. God doesn’t make this distinction, I wonder why we do. We can dishonor God just as easily in church as we can at the gym, maybe even more so.

Like Peter, all of our lives – lived in relationship with Jesus – are preparation. Every Sunday, Gisy and I go into a small room called the “crying room.” It’s a space where parents can take their fussy, restless babies and still hear and see the service, but I have cried in there, and held others as they have, as well. It’s an all-purpose crying sanctuary. We go in there, hold hands and pray that God will use our words & songs (carefully studied and practiced) AS WELL AS our lives to reach others.

It’s foolish to guess that a message I give could ever be received in a vacuum. It’s why Paul’s letters to Timothy focus so much on behavior outside of the church for those that serve inside. The most eloquent talk from a dishonest mouth, heart, and life is conflicting and usually quickly dismissed, in the church or not. Emerson wisely observed, “Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.” He’s right, of course, and that’s frightening. But it also works in reverse.

What if who you are is beautiful? What if who you are at work is honest, trustworthy, and loyal? What if who you are is a faithful, devoted spouse? What if who you are is a passionate follower of Jesus? Then where you are those things doesn’t matter too much, does it? Then, everywhere you are could accurately be called church and everything you do could accurately be called ministry. Then, all of life would be preparation. Then, the sermons we give (with or without words) would “flow spontaneously out of that life, and out of a mind that thought and believed deeply.”

There’s no “just” anything, no “just” anywhere, no separation, no distinction (if there is, the walls, boxes and labels are the ones we’ve placed). There’s just 1 integrated life, lived with purpose, meaning, passion, pain, joy, routine, crying, singing, practice, peace, awareness and everything else. But mostly love. These lives overflowing with the love of Jesus will speak so loudly, even the most perfect words won’t be necessary.

The Slovenian Flute Maker

One of the books I’m reading is called Heroes and Jerks, written by Ed Daly. This massive doorstop of a book breaks down human history into segments and then, in each segment, lists the 10 Best and 10 Worst people of the time. Now, there might be a bunch I wouldn’t ordinarily like about such lists, but it’s educational and hilarious, so what I wouldn’t ordinarily like doesn’t matter in this instance.

I tell you about this book because I want to tell you about a Slovenian flute maker and me and times like these, in particular.

First, the Slovenian flute maker. He’s #5 in the best of the Early Ancient History category (spanning two million B.C.-501 B.C.). And he’s the #9 worst. In 43,000 B.C., he hollowed out a cave bear’s femur and fashioned the first musical instrument, so if you’ve ever loved a song, danced, or cry when Gisy sings on Sunday morning, you have this guy to thank. AND if you’ve ever heard a Britney Spears song (or that Extreme song, “More Than Words”) and hated it, you also have this guy to thank.

I’ll be 45 years old in almost 2 weeks and I’m only just beginning to embrace the fact that the best thing about me is also the worst thing about me. It’s the thing that makes you (and my wife and my kids and anybody else) love me and it is the very thing that drives you crazy and want to never see me again. Just for knowing, it drives me crazy, too. I used to want nothing more than to change it, to leave that part of me well behind. I don’t anymore.

2020 is hard. Yesterday my phone rang and on the other end was a friend I haven’t spoken to in quite some time. She was in distress over the tragic news in our town (and her job and the local schools and COVID and everything else that is making us all feel like the world is upside down and tearing at the seams). I am in distress over the same things, as well, so we mostly just talked about how hard it is to get out of bed some days. How it can feel like it’s all for nothing. And somehow in the middle of ALL of the emotions we were feeling, there were sprinkles of laughter and hope and genuine care.

Then there’s this boy who came into the weight room where I work yesterday. Usually, the early teen-aged boys are overcome by insecurity and inadequacy and are absolutely insufferable (!!!!!), but this boy came in quietly and asked me what to do. He is apparently often in trouble. But he is also the boy who brought a bag of pretzels to the school office to share with my wife last year.

I don’t really feel that much like writing today. But times like these are discouraging and depressing. But just like the Slovenian flute maker (and everything else), they are not simply 1 thing. They are full of tears, but they are full of beautiful old friends, too.

Last night I had a rehearsal for a wedding that I’ll officiate Saturday and as I looked at these kids, I knew what was coming for them, for their marriage: the fights, the fear, the illnesses, the funerals, the all night conversations, the shouting, the questions, the anger, the pain, suffering, heart aches. I also know what else is coming: the joy, the celebration, the wins, the healing, the reconciliation, the passion, the dinners, the cozy movies on the couch, the births, the answers, the kisses, hugs, the hands to hold. It’s all wrapped up in a swirly mixture of a full love and life. It hurts and it is THE GREATEST. It’s always more than 1 thing, (everything is always more than 1 thing), if we only can have the imagination and faith and courage to just keep going.

Misunderstanding

Last week, the wedding I was scheduled to do was cancelled (citing “Family Drama”) so I gave a surprise special message on Facebook. The material fell like the water in the shower, piercing my skin on Tuesday morning, and I was compelled to follow. It was a foot note on the 2nd test (Obedience) of the 1st chapter and a half of 1 John. I didn’t record the audio, so for a quick minute I considered writing it out here. I won’t, you’re only going to find it there, like an extra track on an album, but there is an observation I don’t want to get lost.

The message was about why obedience is important, considering the grace that wholly transformed the story. On the surface the two ideas sound conflicting – the Big Point was that they’re not. We do anything and everything in the context of faith and spirituality as a response to our love for Jesus and gratitude for the tremendous gift we have been given. There was a sentence I’m pretty sure I stole from a guy named Darryl Dash: “True love requires a response.”

That’s right, isn’t it?

Now, the cavalier nature that we toss around the word ‘love’ can make this confusing; loving my jeans or pizza doesn’t require any sort of response. I don’t have to be faithful to baseball or my car, don’t have to buy them a birthday present or show them I love them. But actual true love is different.

To love Jesus means certain things…(we’ve been talking about these certain things and will continue next time, but the question I want to repeat is:) doesn’t loving you? And here we are: Doesn’t loving you translate to respect, kindness, safety, attention, care, faithfulness, integrity, honesty, and one and on? The problem is, too often it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t here now for us everyday, it becomes harder to understand when we talk about responding to God’s love. If a response isn’t a natural expectation, it’s not a natural expectation – neither here nor there.

But the splinter in my mind (to quote the great philosopher Morpheus) is, “why doesn’t it?” Why do we settle when it comes to loving us? When did we learn to accept so little? Maybe it’s so difficult to give all of us to God is because we’ve believed the lie that love doesn’t require that level of sacrifice? (Maybe sacrifice is the wrong word…it’s more like a gift or offering, isn’t it? Because when you LOVE someone, it doesn’t feel like sacrifice at all.) When did faithfulness fade out of the norm? When did honesty become extraordinary? And when did disrespect, neglect and (horrifically) abuse become something we could excuse?

I now see the commands of the Bible not as little grabbing hands designed to steal our fun, but as a vehicle to affirm the dignity of being human, the honor of being children of God, reminders that we are worth far more than we had noticed and acknowledged as fact.

He is worth more, His love is worth more, we are worth more, and our love is worth more. Everything, all Truth, is inextricably linked. If our love hasn’t required a response, it absolutely should. Maybe our definitions need an overhaul, maybe it wasn’t love to begin with, and maybe in reclaiming the beautiful reality of love, we would be set free to respond to this gift of our lives with our lives and finally fly.