Monday, May 16, 2016

Struggling to love

In his last lecture, Randy Pausch posits that "the best gift an educator can give is to get somebody to become self reflective." That, combined with the wisdom my best friend Marissa has shared with me - "preach the sermon you yourself need to hear" - means tonight's blog post is more about what I need to learn, and my hope along the way is that someone else, whether you're friend, family, or a stranger on the Internet, will join me in my journey toward trying to have a little more understanding a little less judging. It's a journey on which I frequently stumble and trip and fall.

I am struggling to love. I am struggling to act like I believe I, as a Christ-follower, should. And I am struggling to have mercy and compassion and understanding toward those whom, in my hurt and broken judgement, I do not want to extend Grace.

In short: three of the past four weekends have each beaten me down emotionally, and quite severely. The details of each incident aren't that important, because I'd rather dwell on my response, than the hurt. (Also to be clear: this isn't about "oh poor me." This is about documenting my struggle, because while I wish I had it all figured out, I think it's more edifying to be honest.)

In each case, my natural desire was, and remains: lash out. I've been wronged, after all! Shouldn't I defend myself? Isn't that fair?

It probably is "fair" by most people's definitions. But it's not Jesus-like.

Last week at Upper Room, Stefan (our worship leader, who is preaching for a 4-sermon series this month) presented a beautiful sermon about violence. Not only physical violence; also emotional, sexual, economic (like sanctions against other countries), social, cultural, and psychological. And at the end he talked about what our response, as a Church, and as individual Christians, might look like. I think it's worth sharing:

  • Recognize and confess our own violence.
  • Seek to understand the violence of others instead of condemning it. There's a message they're trying to tell you. It's hard to condemn if you're honest about your own violence.
  • Disrupt the law of necessity. When you put God in the mix, it changes the scenario. For example, we think work is going to give us fullness, and so the Christian response is Sabbath, which cuts off the lie of necessity. Everyone thinks money is going to give us freedom, and Christians instead give, to resist that lie of necessity. We need to do the same with violence.
  • Absorb the violence we deserve and don't return it. The only way to stop the cycle is that it has to stop with someone. This is really hard. This is redemptive for the self.
  • Absorb the violence we don't deserve. This is the picture of Jesus, of the cross. This is redemptive for the world. And the world won't be able to make sense of it. It's the most Christ-like thing we can engage in.

That last one on the list. Wow.

Less than a week after Stefan preached that, I would have the opportunity to put it into practice.

And let me tell you, it sucks.

It's going through withdrawal from an addiction I never realized I had: self-righteousness. Fighting against a deep-seated need to prove why I'm right, and the other person is wrong. Restraining myself every hour from the urge to whip out my phone and start drafting a scathing response.

In the end, my addiction to "rightness" was defeated only by God's grace, not my own strength. This frustrates me, because it makes me dependent (on God), and I don't like knowing I'm dependent. (though isn't that exactly what Christian doctrine teaches me I should be, even from the earliest stories in my book of scriptures?)

Even though I'd given myself a hard-pass on seeking reconciliation, God hadn't. I rarely invoke the "God Called me to such-and-such," because I think the words lose their power when over-used. This is one case, though, where I believe I can say God was tugging at my heart to seek peace. I can say that because, well, it didn't come from inside of me, and it certainly didn't come from my spiritual enemies, so that really leaves only one other source. With this intent in mind, last night at church I asked two separate prayer-warriors to pray over me, because I knew I didn't have strength to fight the devils whispering constant streams of anger into my mind.

While the final outcome is yet to be determined (both in terms of this specific relationship, and in general about my addiction to proving myself right), I can say that for last night, the prayers worked. I was able to collect my thoughts into a letter that turned out calm, thoughtful, compassionate, thankful, and also, sincerely apologetic for the wrongs I had committed. How the other person responds is well beyond my control. I only can control my own words and actions, and the choice to respond with love, rather than escalating violence.

I even got to share my story with a coworker today, too, and who knows the reaching effect that may have in his interactions with others?

Jacob's Well played this song a few weeks ago, and the lyrics have been resonating around my head ever since. It's well-worth a listen, if you need a few minutes' break from the day:

I used to think I needed all the answers.
I used to need to know that I was right
I used to be afraid of things I couldn't cover up in black and white.
But now I just want to look more like love..."

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