TL;DR -- You're called to love God AND love yourself. Not either.
Part 2: Building Strength, or Suffering a Bad Fit?
In my previous post, I wrote about ‘The Greatest Commandment’, how your calling is found in loving God, loving your Neighbour, and loving yourself. Like three primary colours, when together and in balance that create a vibrant world.
Today, I want to talk about what it means to love God, and specifically what loving God looks like in balance with loving your neighbour, and yourself.
I grew up seeing two polarities in Christian culture. In my teens years was the explosion of megachurches and their prosperity-themed preachers. We were warned against the teachings Joel Osteen and the Prayer of Jabez, which defined faith as a commodity that could be traded in for wealth.
The other extreme, and the direction I was driven to, was the sacrifice-driven model espoused by St. Francis, Shane Claiborne and Henri Nouwen, who gave up worldly privilege in order to identify with those in need. Along with peers, I lived in a community under the poverty line, with poor air quality and second-hand everything.
I learned so much, made lasting friendships, etc. But mostly, I wasn’t happy. At all. Now, the normal thing that normal people do when something isn’t going well would be to figure out why, and how to change it.
And yet there I was.
I was part of the sacrifice-to-serve-Jesus crowd. We believed (and misapplied) in what Moltmann called ‘the cruciform nature of Christ’s ministry.’ As such, when things were hard, we remembered that things were also hard for Jesus. When we suffered, we remembered that Christ also suffered. When we were miserable, we thought... we must be doing a great job!”
Of course, we never said it outright like that, but I certainly believed it. Further, when our fellow suburbanites came down to visit us, they were inspired by our commitment! They praised our seriousness, and encouraged us to keep going. They also misread the ways we struggled as evidence of our integrity instead of our foolishness.
That was a long time ago, and like I’ve said in other contexts, 21-year-old Steve was kind of an idiot.
A few months ago I read this story. I actually don’t remember where: if anyone can help me find the attribution that would be really helpful! Immediately I recognized myself in it:
There was once a young businessman who finally landed the promotion he'd spent years working towards. The company was very appearance-conscious, and he desired to make a good impression, so he went to purchase a custom-made suit.
He went to the most expensive, and most respected tailor, in the community. He paid a high price for the material, and even more for the fitting and measuring.
The evening before the suit was required, though, the tailor's old friends came to town and together they all got terribly drunk. He returned to his work in the middle of the night, with a splitting headache, and finished early in the morning just as the young man arrived.
Now, the arm was too short, the neckline was too tight and off-centre, and the fabric seemed to be pulling diagonally. However, since that man has paid so much for the suit and respected this man’s reputation so highly, he was too embarrassed to question this man’s terrible workmanship. He sat on the bus, ready to start his new job the next morning, hunched over, and twisting against his ill-fitting suit.
A stranger on the bus remarked; “this must be the work of our finest tailor! It looks wonderful! He must have worked long and hard to make the perfect shirt for someone as misshapen and ugly as you”
(Quasimodo actually must have a decent tailor to set him up with these clothes)
Sometimes obstacles and pain are challenges that we must push through, And many trials and struggles we experience are integral for our growth and development. We cannot eliminate everything that doesn’t give us joy, and we must run from a prosperity theology that treats our faith as tokens to trade in for wealth and possessions.
Christ suffered, but also lived a life of joy, community and connection with God the Father, as Hebrews 12:2 says:
“For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
However, the things we struggle with, that which depresses and deflates us, are actually very helpful tools. Like an oppositely charged magnet, knowing what drains your joy pushes you towards what fills you up! And of course, a life with joy cannot be sustained. While by no means a perfect organization, Mother Theresa’s Sisters of Charity had a wise process for taking in potential members. Namely, they asked, “does serving the dying give you joy?” Despite needing all the help they could get, if a potential member could not experience joy in the difficulty of this work, they would not allow her to stay.
So friends, as you seek to love God with all your heart, ask yourselves the following questions:
So, two questions:
Where are you finding joy today? What does that say about how you’re created?
Where are you languishing? What about your situation is a poor fit?
Is the challenge your facing meant to be overcome to build up your strength, or is it a magnet, repelling you to a life that’s more in line with your gifts, skills, and passions?
Until next time,