It’s the middle of the night, 4:30 AM. I know that’s close to getting up time for some of you. I’ve been trying to keep more reasonable hours, go to bed around 1. “Reasonable” for me. That didn’t work tonight.
I’ve been thinking a lot about getting older. It changes your perspective. I realize I’ve been trying to say a few things in my writing and I keep coming at them from different perspectives, hoping to zero in.
What we do matters. What we say matters. We have a chance to make a difference.
Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote ” I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory.” My dad lived sixty-eight years. Rachel Held Evans died at 37. My friend Fred only twenty-nine. And you might think, “Of course you’re thinking about death–it’s the middle of the night!” But I’ve been thinking about these things all the time.
Big events are happening now. We’re in an election year. People are screaming and arguing that this is the best President we’ve ever had, the worst President we’ve ever had, that the fate of the world rides on this election. We’re trying to change a racist, sexist culture while some fight back that our attempt at change is the problem.
We’re in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. We’re learning to do life differently, those of us with the resources to protect ourselves and rearrange our lives. Many more can’t protect themselves. I’m watching my wife, Kim, relearn how to teach after twenty-plus years. We laughed today that it should make her feel young, trying to figure out how to do this, just like she did when she started.
Everything feels huge right now, oversized, overwhelming. We’re enduring too much stress. We’re debating over masks. We’re debating if the sky is blue, if water is wet, if U2 is great (duh). But it’s intractable because somehow both sides believe they have reason on their side, both sides are shouting, “No, this is what ‘wet’ means!”
So I find myself thinking about death a lot, and meaning, and purpose. What of this, if any, would matter to me if I knew I weren’t going to be here. I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory.
I was missing Nicaragua today. It hits me hard some days, catches me off guard, slams me in the ribs, knocks my breath from me.* I was driving this afternoon, when suddenly I missed people and that time and place so badly I literally gasped in pain. But our life in Nicaragua wasn’t Shangri-La; I wasn’t in some perfect state of bliss there. Sometimes I was miserable. I had insomnia for seven years.**
So here it is, what I’ve been trying to say: First, none of this will go as you plan. It isn’t under your control. God didn’t give you that power to make it work as you see fit. Today Kim left for a meeting expecting she would have one school year and returned knowing she would have a completely different one.
I had so many plans and such determination to make things go a certain way and, for the most part, they haven’t. Do I despair? Quit? Try harder? What matters?
Here’s my answer:
I will love you in this time that I have. It’s getting light now. Day is coming.
I will love in this time that I have. Love is attention and love is encouragement. For those who can, love is fixing plumbing or sewing masks. We express love in a million ways. Love is forgiveness. Love is helping others see they are God’s beloved, beautiful, and worth loving.
Today I heard from a friend who has had it–like when Dad shouted “I’ve had it!” Done. Rudeness in exchange for her kindness. Incivility flung at her civility. She concluded that people suck…but she said it a lot stronger. We’ve all been there. Actually, I’m more concerned about anyone who hasn’t been. If you’ve never gotten overwhelmed trying to love these horrible people–I mean, people–then either you are the most shalom-centered, spirit-filled person I know…or else you’re choosing not to love.
It’s such a cliché to tell you that we don’t have much time so you should love people…but we don’t have much time. So love people. Give yourself for the people who can receive love from you. Spend yourself on them.
I feel like we’re following Jesus into the darkness, into a world that gets meaner and smaller and harder all the time, that mocks us for offering or expecting anything different. “When someone is polite to you why can’t you respond? Why do you give filthy looks or just ignore me altogether?” It becomes horribly tempting to do unto others as they’ve done to us.
I’m overwhelmed and exhausted and so tempted to lash out. So bleeping tempted.
My friend matters. Today. My friends who haven’t quit loving and my friends who feel tempted to quit. So I refuse to give in to that temptation. Jesus, give me strength to love and not hate.
No to returning hate for hate.
No to meaner and harder and smaller. No to “everyone lies so what does it matter?” No to “there is no truth.” No to “kindness is meaningless in a world like this.”
“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Yes to that.
I ache for my time in Nicaragua because I gave my heart there, not perfectly or even adequately at times, but with intention. Heart longing that feels like an elbow slammed in the ribs is a strange reward, but I wouldn’t trade it. Yes to giving our hearts.
Here again, in this vastly wealthier place, I don’t know how to love well or even adequately, and it’s hard here for all different reasons and sometimes I’m miserable, but the light shines in this darkness, this “land of plenty with an empty soul.”*** Yes to that light.
Yes to offering what light we can, what light Jesus gives us, in this darkness.
Yes to believing light is coming.
Yes to loving our children, even when they don’t like us.
Yes to loving our friends and remembering to tell them we’re grateful for them. I’m grateful for you. I hope you know that. Please know that.
Yes to holding out hope that the people in darkness, including those who seem willfully ignorant and callously cruel, who look to me like the dwarves in The Last Battle, choosing darkness and refusing light, will yet have love break through. Yes to praying for them. Yes to offering them light, even still.
I’ve realized, probably a little slow, that for some I am the enemy. I talk about Jesus and believe in God’s love, compassion, and justice. I don’t fit their party lines. I insist on seeing a bigger picture. I won’t turn a blind eye.
Yes to following Jesus, even against party lines.
Yes to loving those who call me “enemy.”
Yes to loving you, friends who give me hope and carry me when I’m hopeless.
Yes to Jesus.
Yes to what matters.
*Much like trying to box out Boone, who is one of the people from there I miss.
**I know, I know, but the difference is I can choose to sleep now.
***”They were making available the dreams of the past
For a limited time, while the supply lasts
Got in line, and I gave the man my cash
I was buying fake diamonds, buying fool’s gold
I keep them in a big sack shot full of holes
In a land of plenty with an empty soul” –“Offer” Bill Malonee, Vigilantes of Love