Do you ever wish you could love people better? As a recovering perfectionist this is a hard one for me. Some days it’s easy to be polite and show an interest in peoples’ lives, and other days I need every scrap of will just to be civil. But I get the feeling that’s not the spectrum Jesus is talking about when he says to love one another. I’m sure he understands that we all have our off days; He was a man after all. But when the Bible says that Christians would be known for their love of one another, it seems to imply that deeply loving our spiritual siblings would be a natural (or rather supernatural) consequence of becoming a Christian.
I've learned two things about myself regarding this recently. (Yes, recently - it turns out trying to be perfect all the time tends to slow the growth of self-knowledge. Who knew?) First, it’s hard to be nice when you’re in pain. Second, it’s hard not to judge people when you can’t forgive yourself. The piece of God that has come into sharp focus in light of these realizations is His compassion. I finally began to understand that it wasn't God’s intention for me to keep working hard to love people until I finally got good at it (though love certainly requires practice). It was his desire to heal my soul through his presence; to show me that he cared deeply about the trials and sufferings of my life; to tenderly rebuild me to wholeness. And my part was to stop “should”-ing myself. The true curse of a perfectionists’ life is “should.” I should love them better. I shouldn't have said that. I should help out more. I should be a better _____. That is the spirit of condemnation, friend. And every failure is a little death.
Should I do those things? Probably. But that’s the wrong question. The right question is why should I do those things? Because it’s a good thing to do? Nope. Bad reason. That rabbit trail leads to the clanging cymbals Dusty was referring to from 1 Cor. 13 on Sunday. That path leads to either self-glorification or self-condemnation… usually a liberal dose of both. So then why? Because when Jesus makes us alive (and remakes us alive every time the world breaks us again), it punches holes in our thick walls of self preservation and we start to really see each other. More and more, there is enough in us to care beyond our own pain and inconveniences and start seeing how we might be able to show kindness to our sisters and brothers. We start to see that it is a grand privilege that God allows us to share the stumbles and burdens and joys of our journey together. We learn to lean into God’s compassion for others’ needs as well as our own, and forgive ourselves and others the way God forgives us.
But there is a cost. We have to give up our own righteousness. Is Jesus’ righteousness really more important to me than my own? Easy to say, hard to live.
[1Co 13:1-4 ESV] If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
[Rom 8:1-6 ESV] There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.