Learn Love. Live Love. Change the World.
I looked anxiously around the room. Tired and sometimes painful expressions on the faces around me looked back. I could hear the buzzing of traffic on the nearby street and voices of people handling the mundane business of their daily lives. There, standing in the Mother House at Mother Teresa’s home for the destitute and dying in Kalkata, India I was forced into the moment by the shock to my senses. The smells, the sights and sounds were, for the most part, unpleasant. There were beds and mats on the floor with person after person who had been brought to this place to die with as much dignity as could be offered them.
“I was forced into the moment by the shock to my senses.”
Feelings rushed into my heart and mind. I felt the finality and resignation of this place. A sobriety that comes to each us when we understand our days are numbered. Death felt close. Too close. It filled my heart with sorrow and froze me in time and space. I had come here to serve others. But in this moment, I only felt the impulse to leave, and, almost immediately, shame for wanting to leave those who were suffering; whose needs were so far beyond my reach. I felt confused and realized I was not ready for this. I was so absorbed in my own discomfort that I could not even bring myself to consider the needs of those around me.
As we finished our tour of the complex and returned to our hostel, I felt compelled to pray. The hot tears in my eyes apprehended my first words before they came out of my mouth and all I could do was sob. I was sad for the residents at Kalighat, but I was also full of shame and sorrow over my own heart’s condition. How could I come half way around the world and respond as I did this afternoon? I realized that there was a love that was needed there that was beyond my ability to give; sacrificial love beyond my grasp. I realized that I needed a deeper measure of God’s love to soften my heart and give me give me the strength to respond.
“The hot tears in my eyes apprehended my first words before they came out of my mouth.”
In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul says “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”
As my counseling professor in college was fond of saying--”If you don’t speak the truth in love, you haven’t spoken the truth.” This maxim could apply to a host of activities where love is required.
It all begins and ends with love.
Knowing it is one thing, but doing it is another.
How do we love the unlovely? Or even what we perceive as unloveable?
How do we cultivate that kind of love in our lives?
Jesus describes this as an inside-out process. When asked about the greatest commandment he replied—“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”…(Matthew 23:37-38)
In this paraphrase of the Torah, Jesus unlocks a mystery for us. We know we are to love God and our neighbor and yet most of us also recognize how feeble we can be in our attempts to do that. We just don’t have a reservoir of love deep enough for that. Even when we force ourselves to act we are aware that our thoughts and motives can belie our actions. How is it that Jesus would have us do something that at times seems almost unattainable?
The first commandment is to love God. What does it mean to love Him? It means to enter into a deep, intimate, and abiding relationship with God. In fact, the closest parallel that we are given in human relationships is that of the marriage of a man and woman with everything that entails. As we spend time in God’s presence we come in regular contact with perfect love. It is a love far beyond our human experience. It’s a love so deep that it begins to heal us as we find ourselves on familiar terms with it.
In my life so far I have become convinced that the greatest need of our lives is to know the unconditional love of God; not a love the can be earned or that demands something for itself. While there are many helpful psychological and emotional practices that can lead us into a greater understanding of love, ultimately we need to experience the unconditional, selfless love of God firsthand. How do I know this? Because I can trace nearly every time in my life that I did not love well to my own deficiency of love in a particular area of my life. And believe me, I have had more than my share of such instances.
The answer is that it is not our love that God intends us to share, but HIS. Our love is easily exhausted. His love is endless. Our love, imperfect. His, perfect. Ours, self-seeking. His, selfless. It is the first commandment that makes the second commandment possible. It can be summed up as follows:
Learn Love, Live Love, Change the World.
In that order.
Don’t try to change the world yourself. Let God do it. This is His deal not ours.
I wish I could say that since my visit to The Mother House that learning to love others was a once and done venture; that I learned my lesson and became a completely different person. While it was a a turning point in my summer, it has not been the case that I have always loved well since then. I forget too easily, especially when things are going well and I am far removed from my own troubles or those of others. I seem to be continually relearning the lessons God has taught me.
That is the reason why The Scruffy Pilgrim was formed: to pursue an authentic love relationship with Jesus and, as a byproduct of that relationship, help others to have the same experience. It takes time, patience, and guidance from those who have experienced the trail ahead. But it is possible, even likely when we do it according to the method Jesus has put before us.
“Learn Love. Live Love. Change the World.”
God wants US most of all. Not our service, nor our words, not our deeds, our projects, our gatherings, but US. Let’s learn HIS love. Let’s make time daily to be in His presence. Let’s listen to His still small voice. Let’s let His love spill over into the lives of others as we live it. Let’s let HIM change the world through us as we embrace this journey together.