Jesus calls us to love our enemies, but frankly, I don’t want to. My enemy is my enemy for a reason. Either the individual has hurt me in some way, insulted me and put me down, or they represent a course of action to which I am diametrically opposed. I don’t want to love my enemy; I want to put them in their place. I want to ridicule them and reject them. I want them to experience the hurt and discouragement they have brought into my life.
I once sat with an elderly gentleman who told me that whenever he would step out of line, his father would wag his finger and declare “God will get you for that.” He heard this phrase so often that it stuck with him, becoming the very basis of his picture of God. Despite his years in the church, the countless sermons he listened to, and the hours spent in prayer and ministry, he couldn’t unhear a message of condemnation. It was like a bell that could not be un-rung.
Every week we put out the garbage. We take the orange peels, the plastic wraps, the used yogurt containers, and place them in the bin outside the house. We remove the refuse from our lives. It might not be an enjoyable process to go through it, but it’s necessary. I don’t know about you, but I have yet to bring the garbage from the outside bin back into the house. I have never wanted to be re-surrounded by my old garbage. It just doesn’t happen. Why then do we do this with our spiritual lives?
We can live our spiritual lives under a spirit of duty and demand. Our spiritual practices become burdens we must undergo, activities to begrudgingly plod through. When we live this way, our spirituality feels lifeless, and we can’t help but feel condemned. No matter how hard we try, we rarely perform our practices a perfectly as we would like, or as we believe they should be performed.
Henri Nouwen is one of the authors I read a lot from. His words plumb the depths of the spiritual life in profound ways. So, when I started dreaming of my parish's Lenten program for 2022, I knew that I wanted to structure it around the works of Henri Nouwen.
It was uncomfortable to disclose my need for help. It felt awkward and out of place. Didn’t this person have better things to do than mow my lawn? How could I be so foolish! I condemned myself for my selfishness. But that Saturday, he came. There was no frustration in him, no judgement, just the offer of loving help. As I watched him push the mower up and down my lawn, I had a deeper experience of Christ’s love that I have ever experienced.
Forgiving ourselves begins with Christ’s forgiveness. His grace quenches our thirst. He understands our human conditions, creates community, and ultimately calls us to lay down your guilt and regrets. It is finished. We are free.
Labels sap our spiritual vitality because they mask our truest selves. They attempt to convince us of a reality that is simply not true. We are not our labels
Each time my wife and I stepped out of the house, I’d ask to how far she believed she could walk. We developed our own lingo. One day her goal would be “The red door”; the next day, “the black fence.” These mini-milestones marked her progression; they served as guides, leading her on.
Praying in love is not about masking feelings or denying discouragement. In Christ, God entered the fullness of humanity. This means that it is the fullness of our humanity that is offered in our prayer.