Last week, my son was sick. Between the stomach virus and the ear infection, he was not a happy camper, and sleep was hard to come by in our house. Whether it was his fever or aches, the coughing or goopy eyes, he woke up consistently every one to two hours, for three or four nights straight. On top of that, my husband had just had his wisdom teeth removed, and the pain combined with the combination of strong medicine had him out of commission. The week was a blur, and I still don’t feel fully recovered from it.
There was one night–Saturday, after we had already cancelled our plans to travel to New Jersey for a family birthday party–that sticks out in my mind as the worst. Atticus had fallen asleep at his normal time, around 7:30, and Kyle and I planned to head to bed early ourselves in hopes of catching up on our sleep. It was my night on “baby duty”, so I had the monitor in the bathroom with me as I washed my face, brushed my teeth while Kyle was already in bed. That’s when I heard Atticus cough; only twice at first–hoarse, hard. Then it went quiet, so I waited a moment and hoped he had fallen back asleep. He started coughing louder, and that’s when the sobbing started. His wails screamed over the baby monitor as I dropped my toothbrush in the sink, spat, and rushed into his room. He was standing up in his crib, face red as a fire engine, as he coughed and choked and then threw up all over himself and his crib.
Twenty minutes later, he was changed and in my arms in the rocking chair as I tried to figure out what to do. He was exhausted but couldn’t fall back asleep. My heart broke as I held my baby boy, kissed his face wet with tears, rubbed his back and tried to soothe him. I decided I’d sleep in the rocking chair with him that night, and reached over to switch off the small lamp that sits on top of his bookshelf. I needed to be with him. For whatever he needed, even if it was just another kiss, or a drink of water, or the steady rising and falling of my chest while he sprawled out atop it. I wasn’t going to leave him.
In that moment, I felt a ferocious love, a crashing wave love, a raging storm love. You mamas probably know the love I’m speaking about here. It takes you over, consumes you, and all that matters in that instant is the flesh of your flesh and heart of your heart. It’s love that is a force. A power. A verb.
This love…I think maybe it’s kind of like what God looks like.
These days, I watch the news or scroll social media, overhear bits and pieces of conversations while waiting in line at the grocery store, and I have to wonder: where have all the lovers gone?
Church, it’s time to for us to wake up. The Jesus we profess to believe in told us plain and simple that the world will know us by our love, but there are a whole lot of people out there who look at us and see anything but. Where’s the love that gives ourselves away? Where’s the love that prays for our enemies and casts not the first stone? Where’s the love that our Savior modeled for us by willingly choosing the cross?
I’m talking about the love that gives of yourself. Sacrifices a comfortable night’s sleep. It’s a love that kisses wounds, cries out in prayer in the dark of the night, holds on to another while our shirts are drenched in sweat and snot and tears. I’m talking about a messy love, a love that makes us dig in our heels and get our hands dirty. It’s love that’s uncomfortable. It goes against the grain. It’s a love that tears down walls, throws open arms, invites everyone to the table. It’s a love that says “you first” and not “me first” or “mine first” or even “America first”.
They will know you by your love.
Do they? These days, I’m not so sure anymore.
If you haven’t yet had the chance to watch Bishop Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the American Episcopal Church, deliver the royal wedding sermon, do so. Please. He talks about this kind of love, the power of love, the sheer force of love, and I’ve included an excerpt below:
That’s what love is. Love is not selfish and self-centered. Love can be sacrificial, and in so doing, becomes redemptive. And that way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love changes lives, and it can change this world.
If you don’t believe me, just stop and imagine. Think and imagine a world where love is the way.
Imagine our homes and families where love is the way. Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way.
Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce where this love is the way.
Imagine this tired old world where love is the way. When love is the way – unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive.
When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again.
When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook.
When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary.
When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside, to study war no more.
When love is the way, there’s plenty good room – plenty good room – for all of God’s children.
Because when love is the way, we actually treat each other, well… like we are actually family.
When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all, and we are brothers and sisters, children of God.
If this isn’t what our love looks like, friends…what are we even doing?
When are we going to realize we have been called to more?
Last year, someone I’d known for over a decade decided to cut me out of her life and out of her feed because, according to her, I’d gone from writing words of love to words filled with hate. Maybe that’s been your experience, too. When we start talking about the need for unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love, it makes some people squirm. Like I said, this kind of love is messy. But we need to be willing to enter the mess and sit in the dust, because that’s where we find Jesus. On the margins. Seeking the outsider. Getting his hands good and dirty and messy, healing a man born blind with spit and mud.
There’s a line in a book I read last fall that still haunts me, and I recite it often.“The truth is, I can’t fold my arms to the hurt of this world and simultaneously reach out for my Savior” (Katie Davis Majors). You see, some days the hurt of this world feels too much, too big, too heavy, and my inclination is to shut down and hide away from it all. But to hide from pain is to hide from the God who can heal it. So we dig in our heels, and we grit our teeth, and we start again. We post that article, we start that hard conversation, we challenge, we repent–sometimes online, sometimes off. We start again. Every day, some days every moment, I start again. Because my hope is that God can somehow use it. My hope is that he can use me. I read Luke 4:18-19, over and over again, looking for Jesus here, in these well-worn pages, these well-read words. The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. And then, later, Jesus again: Go and do likewise.
So we watch, and we look for what the Spirit is doing in our own little pocket of this messy-beautiful world, in the tension of God’s kingdom here and yet to come, the now and not yet. We watch, and we join in. We listen for what he is calling for us to do, and we do it, and we know full well that our calling might not look the same as someone else’s. The way we are walking out our faith might look differently and sound differently than the way someone else is. And that’s okay, too. God is big enough to be doing a work in both. I am secure in who I am and how God is living and moving in me right now. And we live with our arms wide open, to God, and to our neighbors, because it’s never been either/or. Both/and, remember. Both/and.
So, as my role model/spirit animal/eshet chayil I’d love to sit and drink a cuppa with, Sarah Bessey, says, “Let’s get on with it.” …”With the work of justice and mercy, the glorious labor of reconciliation and redemption, the mess of friendship and community, the guts of walking on the water, and the big-sky dreaming of the Kingdom of God.”
We’ve been called to more, called for more. This love, it could change the world. So what are we waiting for?