I have had it wrong all along.
Not that I understand it fully now, I’m just trying to understand.
It’s like I’ve been looking at the back of a piece of cross stitch with thread jumbled together, knotted and running across and back and forth other sections, and not seeing clearly what the picture is. The Father is turning it over and revealing the right side.
And this is the point before the explanation: He is long-suffering, because He loves.
Even though I think I know what love is, His love is the real deal, and I see that I have been living in something inferior.
When I experience rejection or betrayal, my natural and reasonable response is to shrink back, withdraw, go the other way, or even silently return the rejection, and make sure I am never in that situation again. It hurts too much. Unless you relish being in pain, you’re with me, right?
After rebuking Peter for telling the Lord that He would not die, Jesus says that we can only save our life by losing it. He was speaking of the most severe occasion; death. But it can also be applied to the things I can’t see, such as my reputation. If I love myself to the exclusion of loving others, I will lose my life. It may not be my physical life in that moment, but a part of me that God intended to be full of life is definitely dead. If there is death within me, how can I share life?
Unlike many of our brothers and sisters around the world, we are not losing our lives. But in this hour are we even prepared to lose our reputation and our rights because of Jesus?
We have been asked to be faithful in small things. If I cannot respond in love to insults and offenses, how can I believe that I would also give my life if it were asked of me?
We seriously need to take another look at what we are willing to give up for the Kingdom.
The thing is, we could be banned from holding church services. But we can’t be banned from loving our neighbor, even if that neighbor hates us.
This is why Jesus could declare to Pilate that he wasn’t taking his life, the Father was handing it over to him with Jesus’ full cooperation. “I know everything that is about to be done to me, and I still willingly hand my life over to you. Even tonight I asked my Father if there was any other way, but here I am, still committed to this. I am not a martyr fighting a losing cause. I am the one making this happen, not you.” (my paraphrase)
A few years ago I volunteered at a fundraiser for our church where we staffed a concession stand at the local arena. When talking about the various performers and speakers that came through the arena and their attendees, the manager of the concession stand said that one group stood out, but not in a positive way. He described them as mean, rude, and hard to work with, as well as other words I won’t repeat. He dreaded working their conference. The group? A Christian women’s conference that comes to our town on a regular basis.
While throwing everyone into the same stereotype is not a good idea, there is still something very wrong with this picture. What are we communicating?
It is helpful to look at the picture or the cross stitch from the right side. It makes much more sense. It runs contrary to my very salvation to react in such a way that does not come straight from love itself. How can I receive love freely laid down and not respond in the same way to those who hurt me?
This requires a very deliberate decision on our part. It is not the same as having a numb, I-don’t-care they-can’t-hurt-me attitude. It is a willful giving up your life, so that you don’t lose it. It is taking down the yellow “do not cross” tape we put up around our heart. What we come to understand is that God has a secret, one that He has actually let everyone in on. It is that unless it costs you something, it isn’t really love. And that kind of love has no regrets.
We have loved in other ways that do bring regret. We have put our heart out there and received a beaten and bloody mess back. That is because we trusted a human with our heart. But if the Lord already has our heart, if we offer it and are rejected, it is still in a place of safety. This is one of the paradoxes of the Kingdom.
This week as I respond to my family, to strangers, friends, haters, whomever I come across, I am asking the Holy Spirit if I am communicating love. If I’m not, I’m sure He’ll show me.
With love, of course.