When I was younger I often struggled with one particular question endlessly. I asked everyone I could for an answer, parents, friends, Sunday school teachers, priests, bishops, anyone and everyone I could reach. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how one could go about living Christian love, a love that endures and gives and gives even to those who hate us, without getting hurt. All my attempts at living this love ended up with me sorely hurt and terribly afraid to try again (although through His grace, I always did try again.)

“Where do you draw the line?” I would ask over and over again. And every time I would never really get an answer. I grew even more upset and frustrated. All I could think was, so basically, if I live a life of love then I am guaranteed to get hurt endlessly for the rest of my life. Where do you draw the line? It didn’t seem right. Christ didn’t say come to me all you weary and feel even worse. After all, joy and peace are just two of the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

My answer came one day some time ago in a lightening bolt-like moment when I was reading over this part of the Sermon on the Mount:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

The answer plainly looked me in the face. He says nothing at all about drawing any lines, therefore one cannot be drawn if one intends to live His words and commandments. I could not love and give and serve to a certain point and then stop once I hit my line in the sand. No, in fact, He tells us to go two miles when we are asked only to go one, give to those who ask, and never turn away one who wants to borrow.

So if one can’t draw a line, then it’s a lifetime of hurt and tears?

No, not quite… You see, I was having what I have now come to refer to as an application confusion problem. This can be better explained by giving another experience of mine where I asked about the now-false proverbial line between love and pain. During a rough patch in life, I ended up going through what at the time seemed like a gross betrayal of trust (things are always so big in the moment and so much smaller in hindsight.) I went back and forth with my father of confession about it, me declaring that I couldn’t trust this person any longer and falling into the depths of my line-drawing despair, when he promptly stopped me and said, “You don’t have to trust her to treat her with love and respect.”

And so my lightening-bolt moment was really when what he had said to me and the excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount collided to create understanding. Since then, I have learned to put my heart in the hands of few, in the hands of those who reflect the Godliness I want in my life. To live a life of Christian love, one does not need to hand one’s heart away to every person along the path, more often than not people will be callous and careless with it. Instead, I learned that it meant to open up my heart to every person along the path. And the only way the heart can remain open to everyone and yet remain protected is when it is placed in the hands of God. He simultaneously shields it and multiplies its love and strengthens it. So ultimately the heart is made of extraordinary mettle, strong yet gentle like its Creator and Perfecter.

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With finals bearing down upon, I can safely say this time of year is fairly gloomy so I’ve been compiling play lists of songs that make me smile, and I thought I’d share one of the songs with you. This one’s called “You owe me Nothing in Return.” I highly suggest giving it a listen. Yes, it is by Alanis, but I guarantee it will surprise you. Lyrics are below for the curious.

I’ll give you countless amounts of outright acceptance if you want it
I will give you encouragement to choose the path that you want if you need it
You can speak of anger and doubts your fears and freak outs and I’ll hold it
You can share your so-called shame filled accounts of times in your life and I won’t judge it
(and there are no strings attached to it)

You owe me nothing for giving the love that I give
You owe me nothing for caring the way that I have
I give you thanks for receiving it’s my privilege
And you owe me nothing in return

You can ask for space for yourself and only yourself and I’ll grant it
You can ask for freedom as well or time to travel and you’ll have it
You can ask to live by yourself or love someone else and I’ll support it
You can ask for anything you want anything at all and I’ll understand it
(and there are no strings attached to it)

You owe me nothing for giving the love that I give
You owe me nothing for caring the way that I have
I give you thanks for receiving it’s my privilege
And you owe me nothing in return

I bet you’re wondering when the next payback shoe will eventually drop
I bet you’re wondering when my conditional police will force you to cough up
I bet wonder how far you have now danced you way back into debt
This is the only kind of love as I understand it that there really is

You can express your deepest of truths even if it means I’ll lose you and I’ll hear it
You can fall into the abyss on your way to your bliss I’ll empathize with
You can say that you have to skip town to chase your passion I’ll hear it
You can even hit rock bottom have a mid-life crisis and I’ll hold it
(and there are no strings attached)

You owe me nothing for giving the love that I give
You owe me nothing for caring the way that I have
I give you thanks for receiving it’s my privilege
And you owe me nothing in return

…when it seeks its own.

Any acts motivated by the self or self benefit cannot be called acts of love. Be careful when using love as the reason for the action.

The Lord’s prayer is probably one of the most well-known and most frequently recited prayers world over, which makes it the prayer most likely to fall into the trap of vain and empty repetition. I will be the first to admit that after a long and tiring day when all I want to do is just crawl into bed I cave in to the ache and fatigue and simply rattle it off in order to have done my “prayer duty” for the day. But my laziness and the sham concept of “prayer duty” (prayer is a privilege, not a duty) will have to wait for another day because I am quite taken by something else within the Lord’s prayer at the moment.

“Thy will be done” is probably the most comforting yet terrifying phrase in the Lord’s prayer, perhaps the entire Bible. There is comfort beyond measure when you pause to think of what you are truly saying to the Lord when you pray “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” I imagine in heaven God doesn’t even have to command or ask for something to be done, He just thinks it or says the word and it happens (but then again this is an image limited by my human mind that needs to conceptualize things within the boundaries of thoughts and words.) And so when we pray for His will to be done on earth just as it is done in heaven we really are asking for what we would see as one miraculous happening after the other, things happening with ease, doors opening without any resistance, pure harmony of being and existence.

“Thy will be done” terrifies precisely because it is Thy will and not my will. God gave us free will to do as we please and that free will led to the fall of man. But we still like to be in control. We want things to go our way because we know best. But the truth stands to the contrary. We don’t know best. If we did then Eve would not listened to the serpent in the Garden of Eden. She had a choice and with her free will she made the wrong one. Yet, we are not lost. Where man’s will goes wrong, God’s will is there to make things right. It was His will that we be saved, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

And it is from the Son that we learn to submit our will to His. As Christ prayed on the mountain just before he was arrested and tried and then crucified, He prayed that the cup before Him may be taken away but also prayed and said “Thy will be done.” He knew of the oncoming suffering yet still submitted His will to His Father’s will. God does not ask of us anything remotely close to the most ultimate sacrifice given on the cross, so why be scared to submit? All that will be done will be good just as He is good. If His will entailed sacrificing His own Son for us, there is no limit to the goodness He will bestow on us. All we have to do is mean four simple little words from the very bottom of our hearts.

“Who can find a virtuous woman? For her worth is far above rubies. The heart of her husband safely trusts her; so he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not evil all the days of her life. She seeks wool and flax, and willingly works with her hands. She is like the merchant ships; she brings her food from afar. She also rises while it is yet night, and provides food for her household and a portion for her maidservants. She considers a field and buys it; from her profits she plants a vineyard. She girds herself with strength, and strengthens her arms. She perceives that her merchandise is good, and her lamp does not go out by night. She stretches out her hands to the distaff, and her hand holds the spindle. She extends her hand to the poor, yes; she reaches out her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household is clothed with scarlet. She makes tapestry for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple. Her husband is known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies sashes for the merchants. Strength and honor are her clothing; she shall rejoice in time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness. She watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many daughters have done well, but you excel them all.’ Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her own works praise her in the gates” (Proverbs 31:10-31).

 

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A word of advice to all the men out there: if this virtuous woman is worth far more than a precious ruby, then she must be much rarer and far more difficult to find than a ruby as well. If you find a woman like this willing to give you her heart, then do not let her go. Only a fool would do such a thing.

“Parable of Faith”

Now, in twilight, on the palace steps
the king asks forgiveness of his lady.

He is not
duplicitous; he has tried to be
true to the moment; is there another way of being
true to the self?

The lady
hides her face, somewhat
assisted by shadows. She weeps
for her past; when one has a secret life,
one’s tears are never explained.

Yet gladly would the king bear
the grief of his lady: his
is the generous heart,
in pain as in joy.

Do you know
what forgiveness means? It means
the whole world has sinned, the world
must be pardoned—

- Louise Glück 

The lesson of the moment, and of every moment: Love is as love does.