I’ve spent weeks trying to get this post started. I wanted to talk about education and routine along with my own sense of apathy towards this coming year. Yet, each time I wrote a paragraph or a page I would inevitably delete it. The words may have been useful but they were empty and mechanical.
I have been with Jesus for a long time. He has been the one who has never left me but has been faithful to remain by my side no matter the circumstances or how harshly I have pushed him away. Our relationship is one that is in constant flux. There are times when I think I have a handle on who he is but then he surprises me with a depth and truth I didn’t know was available to me.
With the loss of a life lived overseas and the disillusionment I’ve found in my faith, God has been pulling me away from a focus on activity and action. Instead of relying on an early morning Bible study, a Sabbath routine, service opportunities or any form of ‘spiritual discipline’, he has been drawing me deeper into love.
I think the majority of us know 1 Corinthians 13. I, for sure, was under the age of 10 when my mom helped us memorize the entire chapter, with hand motions and intonations to help us remember. I’m grateful for the memory because God has been bringing it to mind recently. It will replay in my head from time to time, pulling me into contemplation.
It says that we could speak in the tongues of men and angels, we could understand all mysteries and all knowledge, we could have prophetic powers, or the faith to move mountains, we could be the most sacrificial and give up all of our material possessions and give our body up to be burned but all of it is useless without love.
In fact, the illustration that Paul uses to describe action without love is a clanging cymbal or a noisy gong. I can’t think of anything more annoying to listen to than the incessant noise emanating from a crashing cymbal or gong. No rhythm, just chaos. Just envisioning it makes my head hurt.
Paul continues on to describe for us what love is. Now, it is easy for me to read through the next verses and try to find my failures. I can read the word patience and confess that I have been impatient and need to be more patient. Or, I can read how love is not irritable and think about how I am failing at love. But I don’t think this is the intention of Paul’s descriptive verses.
Love is not something that we know intuitively. Our experiences have taught us that love is conditional, that it needs to be earned and that it can be lost. There is a deep insecurity that undergirds the love we know that taps into our hidden shame. It tells us to be better, to do better and that we are unlovable as we are.
But that’s not true.
Because God is patient and kind. He does not envy or boast, he is not arrogant or rude, he does not insist on his own way, he is not irritable or resentful, he does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. God bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. God.Never.Fails.
I’m coming to terms with the fact that I can only know the love of God in part. There is too much dirt on my mirror to see clearly, too many lies in my head to fully discern God’s voice and there are a lot of cymbals clanging.
“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1Cor. 13:12)”
I had hoped that 2020 would be an easier year than 2019 or 2018 or even 2017, but it is shaping up to be another difficult season. I carry a lot of shame and my brokenness feels insurmountable.
Yet life goes on. School begins again, schedules become fixed and there is much to be done. My curriculum is chosen and my teachers binder is filling up with activities and projects. I have a new Bible study to walk through and meditations to try, not to mention the relational needs currently unmet.
It’s time. It’s time to begin, but this year I do not want to be a crashing gong. I do not want to be active, disciplined and learned for the sake of being so. I want to be driven by love and in love and the only way I know how to do that is to sit in the truth of being loved unconditionally myself.
This transition has necessitated that I begin to unravel my long-held beliefs about God and his view of me. It forces me to ask questions such as, “Am I unworthy?”, or “Is God angry?” and “Is being used by God my created purpose?” I’m learning to listen to my gut reactions as I read Scripture or listen to sermons and podcasts, discerning God’s voice from within the words, and clinging to the truth I know.
The truth that, while everything else in this world will end, God’s love never will. We are his beloved. We are his bride. He knows who we are fully, with all of our bruises and scars and all of the darkness that lies in us. He knows the goodness too. He knows the laughter and the dreams, he knows our creativity and the beauty we encompass. It makes his love all the more mystifying. How is it possible that I am fully known and fully loved?
My prayer for this year is that I would know this love in a deeper way. That I would be able to recognize when I am being loved by God and by others and that I can accept it without shame. From this inpouring of love, I want to calm the cymbals that I clang. I want to put love above education, above routine, above ministry, above spiritual discipline, I want to use the descriptive words of Paul to know love and to be inspired by it.
What are you focused on in this moment? How can love supersede those demands?