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).

Giving and Receiving

“It is more blessed to give than to receive” seems to be the general assumption among those who have relative material prosperity.  It certainly is a joy to give.

On a recent Mother’s Day, my 7-year-old granddaughter persuaded her dad to take her to the store so she could pick out presents for her mother.  She knows what her mother likes, and she enjoys giving gifts.  Giving also can be not in material things but in giving of oneself.  Some share professional knowledge and do helpful things such as developing a system to monitor and maintain precious wells that provide water for communities whose water-needs shape their lives.  Some, as teachers, give their creativity and energy to draw out the best from students.  Some give to others a listening ear and a sense of being loved and important.  There are so many ways to give oneself.

Some people are very willing to give to others, but never acknowledge any need themselves and therefore avoid the experience of receiving.   I think receiving is a gift in itself.  When I took my first unit of Clinical Pastoral Education in a local hospital, I was given a badge that included my name and the title of chaplain.  That badge meant that I was received by people and allowed to give the services I already was able to give but had had no place where those gifts could be received.  I was very grateful for the badge.  Both giving and receiving are important.

The ultimate gift we celebrate at Christmas is the birth of Jesus.  We have been given stories about his birth, ministry, death and resurrection.  But unless we are enabled to receive the meaning of these stories, we, like many before us, miss the gift.

Queries:

What is your experience of giving and receiving?  In what way might you be called to do more of one or the other than you have been doing?

Who is Jesus for you?  What is the gift of Christmas for you, if any?

Prayer:

For persons who are homeless, for newborn babies, for young families, for people who are traveling, for peace and goodwill to all we pray.  Let us see the star.  May we receive your gift of love.

For further reflection:

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (See John 4: 1-26).

“Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete” (See John 16: 24).

Sacrifice

My grandson Jack has problems letting anyone cut his hair or touch his mouth, so when he fell and knocked out his one permanent upper front tooth, the trauma was worse than usual. The only way for the dentist to be able to re-implant the tooth was for his mom, Heather, to comfort Jack with the pressure of her body so the dentist could safely work in Jack’s mouth.

Heather, having as a child had many difficult experiences with her own knocked-out front tooth, had to cope with Jack’s profuse bleeding, his intense anxiety, and her own memories. She hesitated briefly. Then she pulled herself together and gave herself up for her son.

The world teaches—be first, climb the corporate ladder, be perfect (that is, better than other people), get more money. Jesus teaches–life is found not in trying to save your life but rather in giving it away for his sake. This message is given twice in Matthew, once in Mark, and twice in Luke—a solid witness. When we give ourselves for others, work together for the common good, let the ego die, we do not become lost. Instead we find joy, meaning and purpose, and more ability to live through the hard times.

The care of a parent for a child is a place that such self-giving love is required over and over. To love that way is not about doing good in order to get rewards from Jesus. It is a school for learning how to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Queries:

What stories do you have about self-giving love?

We can lose our lives for the sake of lots of things. What is different about losing one’s life “for Jesus’ sake”?

Prayer:

Think of a troubled situation or person you are concerned about. Hold that concern in your heart. Hold it in the Light. Pray about it.

For further reflection:

“They who find their lives will lose them . . .” (See Matthew 10:39 and 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24 and 17:32).

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself . . .” (See Matthew 22: 34-40; Mark 12: 28-34; Luke 10: 25-28).