Like when you sit in front of a fire in winter — you are just there in front of the fire. You don’t have to be smart or anything. The fire warms you. -Desmond Tutu
I studied biology in college. I thought I wanted to be a high school teacher. My first class in education requiring I observe a local classroom informed me being a teacher was not a good idea. I continued in the biology path, obtaining a Bachelor’s degree, eventually making my way to grad school for a masters degree in nutrition.
I don’t think my education path was suitable for this new person I have become. That life, twenty years ago, those choices were built on evidence, science, concrete. Testable. Palpable. Provable.
My faith was the same. Scripture was clear. Black and white, good and bad, right and wrong. Choose well, ask for incessant forgiveness – just in case, pray before all meals, carve out an hour at the dawn of day, carve out an hour before bed while trying in desperation to stay awake (always failed), make sure all things reflect the glory of God: food, body, weight, relationships, spending, parenting, marriage, recycling, music, television watching, voting. These actions, all, insured my safety and safe keeping, my attainment of eternal life guaranteed by my goodness and my invitation of Jesus. I strived, I proved, I failed.
I didn’t know love. I couldn’t know grace. Mercy toward myself and others an impossibility.
I could not understand a god that that didn’t require my sacrifice. I couldn’t understand a god that didn’t require my self-scourging. I couldn’t understand a God of generosity and mercy, devoid of condemnation, abounding in compassion…for me. The god I followed was wrath and revenge and waiting to pounce for the slightest infraction. My god kept track, tallying the number of efforts praying the prayer, repenting of my horrible sin, reflecting and renewing upon my commitments time and time again, fear ruling. My god forced me awake at night recounting shortcomings and failures. My god tripped me and tested, like a bootcamp solider before sun-up.
My physical body suffered, I ate copious amounts to relieve the pressure from perceived failure. I attended church without fail to appease this god. I journaled and prayed and evangelized and volunteered to earn my keep. My goal, a someday, far-off Heaven. Maybe I would be chosen, maybe God would say, Well done.
Over the years I have shed this god of judgment and revenge. My story is now written and read in the prose of grace and kindness, justice and mercy, hope and redemption. My imperfections draw me nearer to my God, my surrender provides the avenue for grace, my divided heart allows invitation, my idols and substitutes, revealed. My mind once filled with racing thoughts over my salvation, allows for rest and help, relief and renewal.
Like a diviner hunting for water, my body recognizes love. My body knows the truth, my body tells me what I need to know. My head and reason follow much later, waking me early, inviting pen and paper to sort and sift, to lament and question. My gut is where the Spirit dwells, informing my digestion and heart rate before my head can understand.
I am a Christian. I choose Christ. I choose a life attuned to Jesus’s work in the world around me. In claiming the word Christian, I guarantee the ease of my life is gone, my comfort is a gift, not an entitlement. As a “little Christ” my responsibility is to look like Jesus, to taste like Him, to care about what He cares about. The cross of Christ is a daily choice, somedays I make the choice and others I don’t.
Love is our choice. The work of Christ is Love. Love is not linear, nor is it clear. Love lives in the body, in mine and in yours. Love goes before, through and around, identifiable, true. Love is not defined or measured. Sometimes you will not agree with my definition of love, and I won’t with yours.
While vague, true love does hold one defining quality – love and fear do not, cannot coexist. Someone invoking fear cannot be motivated by love. When fear is evident in my body, love cannot move through me. When I am terrified, I am incapable of surrendering to empathy, to compassion, to mercy. Fear of the “other” cannot be in love.
Love leads in ways our heads cannot make sense. Love leads to dumb and impractical. Love leads us to see people, challenging assumptions and stereotypes. Love does the heavy lifting of dismantling systems that oppress. Love says, I’ll take less so you can have more. Love dies on crosses for people who deserve nothing. Love wears whipped stripes and oozed puss, hatred and spit. Love drives nails into one’s own hands and feet to bear the pain for another. Love spears our sides to release the separated blood of the One who scapegoats off with our pain, stench, shame, the greed and pride of our self-righteousness and superiority.
Living a life of love guarantees not a life of comfort and privilege. Living a life of love holds and lifts up another, while bearing the weight, knees buckling, tired and worn. I choose this life, most of the time, for this just might be my salvation from a certain life of self-importance.