Self-giving Love

For his 70th birthday my husband Ralph wanted to have a party to celebrate all the people who have contributed to his life.  He invited over 150 people from near and far—family, people in our Quaker meeting, his friends from childhood and now, professional colleagues and other people with whom he worked, neighbors, and more.  Because he wanted them to have a good time, he arranged for food and entertainment, contacting a caterer and persuading some of his talented friends and family to present a few minutes of their music or poetry.

He didn’t want the party to be about him or to be himself the focus of attention—even having me be the emcee introducing the entertainers.  He wanted to get to visit with as many people as he could and to have them mingle, relax, and have fun.

What happened is that people visited with friends, got to see people they hadn’t seen in a long time, met strangers and found amazing connections, laughed, told stories, and enjoyed themselves in a very electric, heart-joining way.  Ralph’s dream came true—although he would like to have invited even more people he cares about.  That people chose to come and be a part of the gathering was a tremendous gift to him.  I call this experience one of self-giving love.  The mark of it was the kind of life and joy that permeated the event.

This is the Christian season of Lent in which we are invited to reflect on our lives to see what gets in the way of our freedom and ability to receive God’s love and to love as Christ has loved us.  Ralph and I are both very ordinary human beings with all the usual flaws, issues, and wounds, which weren’t absent in the planning or the party itself.  But how delightful to be a part of something that had the fragrance of something divine.

Queries:

What is the difference, as you have experienced it in your life, between self-giving love and letting oneself be run over?

How have you experienced love that surpasses all understanding?  What barriers might you erect to that experience and how might you be more open to it?

Prayer:

Lord, make me a channel of your love.

For further reflection:

“…as thou takest up the cross to thyself, and sufferest that to overspread and become a yoke over thee, thou shalt become renewed, and enjoy life, and the everlasting inheritance in that” (Isaac Penington).

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only son…” (See John 3: 14-17).

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To Weed or Not to Weed

As I write this I could instead be profitably weeding my front yard—which has no grass, lots of English ivy, pretty trees, flowers in their season, and an infinite amount of weeds.

In chapter 13 of the gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells two parables about weeds.  In the first, there is a sower whose seed lands on different kinds of soil.  One kind has thorns, which choke the new plants when they begin to grow, so they never produce.  The other parable tells about a wheat field sowed with good seeds but when everyone is asleep the enemy comes and sows weeds among the wheat.  The surprising injunction is to let both of them grow together until harvest time.

Sometimes weeding is helpful and sometimes it is not.  To ignore injustice is to let conditions fester that choke out the life or Life in the individuals or groups to whom injustice is done, and also in those in whose name the wrongs are done.  People’s lives may be cut short because of the unjust conditions they face—hunger and malnutrition, exposure to high levels of pollution in order to produce the products wanted by those whose clean air is protected, being subject to gang violence because they can’t see better alternatives, enduring sex trafficking for others’ greed and lust.  With such conditions where is the compassion to which Jesus witnessed?  How can one be loving one’s neighbor as oneself?

We all have faults, but to become solely focused on removing the weeds, in ourselves or others, can result in perfectionism and losing sight of God.  We may forget who indeed is God, and also forget God’s love for us just as we are.  We judge, we ruminate on negative things, we lose sight of life and the abundance of gifts that we have been given.  A lack of humility and too much self-righteousness might prosper, because we don’t always know what are truly the weeds.  Nor do we always know how to pull them up without damage to the wheat.  To weed or not to weed is a question that needs prayerful discernment.

Queries:

What are the weeds in your life?

How do you listen to and care about others who have different values from yours?

Prayer:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

For further reflection:

“What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).