When you attempt to live by your own religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Christ, you fall out of grace. Meanwhile we expectantly wait for a satisfying relationship with the Spirit. For in Christ, neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love.
Photo by Bryn Wied
Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”
“Which ones?” he inquired.
Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
If there’s one character I can identify with in the Bible, it is this young man.
I’m a total nerd. I live for lists, love to make plans and dissect them into to-dos, I love organizing and checking off a list. If there was a requirement for God’s love in list form and I could work my way down it and feel like I had earned his grace, I would be thrilled. I yearn to have a clear marked path with a list of bullet point items I could cross off and be guaranteed to have lived a life that God wanted me to.
I completely and sadly empathize with his desire to cross off a checklist and validate his good behavior. I want surety that I’m going to heaven, as if trust in my own good behavior is somehow more dependable than trusting in God’s endless and ceaseless grace.
Unfortunately, life doesn’t work like that. And maybe that’s actually a good thing, because there’s no way I’d ever be able to perfectly tackle a list that would get me even remotely close to God’s equality.
So there is no bullet point. There is no black and white, clear line to follow. But what is given to us is gloriously more confusing and infinitely more desirable: a beautiful journey of love.
Loving God, loving others. Loving others like Christ loved us.
Love. Love. Love.
“Love should be your top priority, primary objective, and greatest ambition. Love is not a good part of your life; it’s the most important part. The Bible says, ‘Let love be your greatest aim,’…Often we act as if relationships are something to be squeezed into our schedule. We talk about finding time for our children or making time for people in our lives. That gives the impression that relationships are just a part of our lives along with many other tasks. But God says relationships are what life is all about.”
-Rick Warren, the Purpose Driven Life
I’m in the middle of reading my way through The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren, because of course with a title like that a nerd like me is going to jump on the chance to skim the pages and see if I can find a checklist for living a purpose driven life full of intentional (spoiler alert: no such list exists). The book addresses those who are looking to find the meaning in life and life's purpose. Who doesn't have questions in that arena? Am I doing what I am supposed to do? What's my next step? What career steps should I make? Is this the right decision?
Just yesterday my sister asked me on the phone if I was still pursuing real estate and getting my license. And I responded the same way I always do when someone asks me; my brain is too sleep deprived with newborn life right now to even think of cracking open a textbook. I barely manage to write one blog post a month, let alone study for the CA state exam. But the truth is, that has taken a back burner to taking care of our little foster guy, who needs and deserves every occupational and physical therapy appointment, multiple social worker visits, doctor and WIC appointments, neurological exams and hearing monitors that I can get him.
Supporting my hubby, championing for our kids, and loving on as many people as we can has to be my biggest goal, and everything else comes second. And that’s exactly the priority level it should be at.
Yes, it is far from glamorous. But serving and loving others in the everyday bits of life is exactly what only really matters in this life. Our time here is so temporary- guys, it’s already July….of 2017. WHAT?!? WHEN DID THIS HAPPEN? WHERE IS TIME GOING?!? HOW AM I ALMOST 30??? My life is flashing before my eyes, and the wonderful part is that this isn’t the end. We were created for so much more, for an eternal life of closeness with God.
It is kind of wonderful to look forward and think that after kids are grown, I still have a lifetime to do the whole career bit, travel the world with Matt, etc. But that’s the wrong kind of thinking.
“Relationships, not achievements or the acquisition of things, are what matters most in life. So why do we allow our relationships to get the short end of the stick? When our schedules become overloaded, we start skimming relationally, cutting back on giving the time, energy and attention that loving relationships require. What’s most important to God is displaced by what’s urgent.
Busyness is a great enemy of relationships. We become preoccupied with making a living, doing our work, paying bills, and accomplishing goals as if these tasks are the point of life. They are not. The point of life is learning to love- God and people. Life minus love equals zero.”
-Rick Warren, the Purpose Driven Life
That’s not to say that having a career, paying bills, and checking off our adulting to-do lists aren’t important. In fact, I find a lot of joy in accomplishing and being responsible for our family, loving my hubs by serving him and taking care of the electric bill, fixing the dishwasher and mowing the lawn. In that serving I love Matt and love God through that. But if my attitude isn’t an attitude of love, or if I do it for the love of checking off my list, I miss the point.
Even thinking about having time for having a dream career sometimes doesn’t make sense. I’ve worked part time as a server or in childcare around Matt’s schedule or dragging my kiddos with ever since Jamison was born. It certainly isn’t what I thought my dream job was, or is it even a passion of mine. But practically it makes me the most amount of money in the shortest work time, which means more time with my family, and is flexible enough I don’t have to worry about taking off time to accommodate Matt’s work schedules, or preschool being closed, or family vacations.
While being a server in a restaurant isn’t a passion, it does give me plenty of opportunities to love others and to literally and figuratively serve others as well. If the job itself isn’t necessarily my dream gig, love and relationships are the first priority in our life. Loving God and loving others is the most important thing our lives. Serving gives me plenty of opportunity to love on my co-workers and customers. I’ve bandaged hands, prayed for co-workers, given hugs and just been a sympathetic listener. I’ve offered advice, volunteered my free time away, and picked up shifts to help someone out. Every day I would walk up those stairs into the ski resort, I would pray that I would be Jesus to my co-workers and to every person at my tables.
It may not be my dream career field or anything close to the degree I went to college for. But I am so grateful for it and find so much joy and purpose in working because my first priority is love. Love for my family, my co-workers, my customers, some of whom make it a real challenge (looking at you, teenage kid tripping on acid who threw up all over me 30 minutes after we closed and left me a $0 tip). What I saw as just a job God showed me was an opportunity to live out our purpose here on earth.
Matt and I are in the middle of leading Financial Peace at our church, a class by Dave Ramsey about finances, money, budgeting, and other really cool nerdy stuff (yep, there’s plenty of chances to make lists and charts. For those 90 minutes every week I’M IN HEAVEN). Every week Matt and I sit next to each other with several other couples and watch the lessons on DVD and listen to Dave talk, which is always entertaining as well as educational.
This last week Dave told a story about a friend of his, a man at his church (I’m pretty sure he was talking about himself) who sat down in church next to his wife when they noticed a women crying before the service. The wife went over and asked if everything was ok. The women explained that she was a single mom and just was struggling about what to do- her electricity was about to be cut off on Tuesday and she had run out of options and ideas on what to do to provide for her kids. The man and his wife asked if they could pray for her, and took down her name and address so they could follow up and make sure she was ok. The next day, Dave said, the man went down to the electric company and paid her electric bill for the next year. That woman had no idea who paid it, and her prayers were definitely answered.
Dave wraps up the lesson by pointing out that you can’t pay someone else’s bill when you’re worried about paying your own, and when you see money as a ministry your priorities change.
That hit Matt and I hard, and we’ve seen these DVDs and taken the class several times by now. This past week we put it into action. We bought a homeless father a meal on Father’s Day and talked to him about his kids in the middle of the parking lot. I bought coffee for the person behind me in line at Starbucks, and gave away things we had bought but didn’t really need. It was little, tiny baby steps, but this past week has honestly been the best week of my life.
Others, people, relationships, loving- that is the most important thing our life. Matt and I are in the middle of adjusting and talking and dreaming together about how to do more like this, how to live out every day by loving others, by using everything we have been assigned to provide and use as a ministry for others. We have some goals and ideas, and I’m excited to see how God is going to use us and continue to actively seek every day to find opportunities to love others. We all have so many resources and opportunities- our finances, our jobs, our free time, our skills, etc. In every area there is opportunity to love.
“Why is now the best time to express love? Because you don’t know how long you will have the opportunity. Circumstances change. People die. Children grow up. You have no guarantee of tomorrow. If you want to express love, you had better do it now.
Knowing that one day you will stand before God, here are some questions you need to consider: How will you explain those times when projects or things were more important to you than people? Who do you need to start spending more time with? What do you need to cut out of your schedule to make that possible? What sacrifices do you need to make?
The best use of life is love. The best expression of love is time. The best time to love is now.”
-Rick Warren, the Purpose Driven Life
My children, our love should not be just words and talk; it must be true love, which shows itself in action.
1 John 3:18