Monday, January 11, 2016

Love Your Neighbor As Yourself

I love people. I love getting to know them, I love getting to know what makes them "tick", I love laughing with them, but more than anything, I love pouring into them. God created me to be the type of friend that gets calls when my peeps are at the lowest points in their lives. Walking through worst case scenarios may not be most people's cup of tea, but I feel fulfilled and full of purpose when I do that. It's weird, I know. My husband doesn't get it either. I am not at all happy that my friends are hurting, but I am so deeply honored to be helping. 

I have prayed with and dried tears of so many people, I've also brought about conversations with strangers in public where they share their hurts with me too. It's really crazy. BUT, what I have found is that strife and hurt are just part of life. It's not possible for me to come into regular contact with someone and not feel their pain. Sometimes you have to peel a person back like an onion to find it, sometimes you scratch just below the surface like a lottery ticket, and sometimes you barely brush up against them, and there it is. Clear as day. 

Who among us has not been tangled up in affliction? Weighted down by chains of bondage, heavily beaten down in a cloud of depression, sadness, or self doubt? Who hasn't been twisted with guilt, anxiety, dread, or worry?

If that's you, and you've never been afflicted… oh please teach me your ways, wise Jedi. But I digress.

For me, I struggle so hard with C-PTSD and deep depression. I had made it my life's mission {until last year} to keep it hidden. I made sure that no one saw my chains. I dressed them up and covered them over, and cranked up the music of my life so no one could hear ugly, awful chains clanking all around me. I carried them as calmly and quietly as possible, while plastering a smile on my face, making sure no one would ever see. 

But then, I predictably grew so very tired. I grew weary and weak from carrying these heavy chains. More and more often, they would creak and clank as I tried to redistribute the weight to make them easier to carry. As the fatigue grew, so did my gentleness. I was not as soft, patient, or kind. My chains would bump up against my family, often bruising my husband and my child. The guilt of that added on more chains. More bondage. One day I woke up to find myself completely chained in. I was incapable of reaching out, and everyone else was incapable of reaching me. The shackles and chains swallowed me whole. I was bruised, broken, and completely crushed. I reached a point where I was too weak in my own afflictions to help anyone else carry theirs.

Like my pain, yours has the potential to completely imprison you. It could completely eclipse anything good in your life: love, laughter, joy, career, family, hobbies, friends, and most importantly: your God. Yet, our church culture tells us to pray harder, and we'll be healed. Or maybe they say that if we had more faith, we wouldn't be struggling any longer. "You'll be fine if you trust God with it", that's what they say. These are dangerous thoughts, y'all. Not only is it completely WRONG {read your bibles people, all of God's favorite peeps were absolutely cray cray}, but it keeps people like me {and you, if you also struggle} in isolation. It builds this stigma of Christians who feel like freaks for not having themselves perfect and pulled together, so they isolate and try to deal with it alone. This is a huge problem! People were built for community {see here}, and if you lock people away who are hurting, you are also keeping them from the fullness of what God has planned for them. This type of thinking keeps adding more chains on to people who are already bruised and broken and about to shatter at any given moment. Is that what God wants for them? I say nay, y'all.

If I think about the ultimate example of someone who healed & helped people, I obviously think of our main man, Jesus. People came to him by the thousands, from all over. He was their guru, their miracle worker, their life-infuser, their teacher, and most importantly: their pain reliever. Jesus and his squad retreated from these needy mobs often. They went into hiding for a quick meal, prayer, or some basic rest. Yet these people followed Him EVERYWHERE. These folks were like Beliebers on steroids. They just would NOT leave Jesus alone. Jesus continued to show up for them anyway. He continued to serve them. He fed 5,000 with only a couple fish and some bread {read about it here}. That's the part of the story we tend to focus on. Oh, yay Jesus! You performed a magic trick. You turned a small meal for a few into a feast for thousands. You could take that act on the road and it would sell out for years. That's not the part that wows me the most, though. This part does: Jesus was running away in grief from John the Baptist's death. He wanted to cry. He wanted to pray. But mostly, He probably just wanted to be left alone. His cousin had just died, and it was not just any cousin, John was also His friend, His partner in this great mission of His ministry. They were teammates, besties, amigos, pals, and brothers. I can't imagine suffering a loss like that and then having to heal and feed 5,000 people. I mean, I'd probably try to pull it off, but I wouldn't have a great attitude about it. How about you? Would you tell those folks to scram? Get lost? Beat it? Hit the dirt? Or would you be like me and serve them all, begrudgingly, out of some sense of duty or obligation? 

But my Jesus. Oh, Jesus, He is just the best. He responded with compassion. He always healed those who needed healing, fed those who needed feeding, taught those that needed teaching, etc. BUT! He never had a sour attitude about serving people. He never ran out of steam for those He loved so much. I've often beat myself up for not being like this. I always show up for people, but I'm sometimes left feeling run down, depleted, out of juice, and my low fuel light is on more often than I'd care to admit. 

Relate? You know why? Well, for one, we are so not Jesus…. No matter how hard we try to emulate Him. AND! You know what else I've learned? I've been interpreting this passage all wrong. So very, very wrong. "Love your neighbor as yourself". Jesus didn't say "love your neighbor better than yourself". He certainly didn't say "shackle yourself up for your neighbor". He definitely didn't say "carry your neighbors chains and yours". If you can't carry your own chains, take heart. Jesus never asked you to carry your chains and everyone else's chains. You know what else Jesus is saying here? He's saying to you chained up people "Your neighbor deserves your love, but you deserve love too!"

How do we do that? How do we find that balance in loving our neighbor and loving ourselves? First off, realize that we are not Jesus, so we can't expect to save anyone! We want to pour Jesus into people, right? We have to pour the same amount of Jesus into ourselves as we're pouring into other people if we don't want to end up running on fumes. You can't solve everything. In fact, you can solve very little on your own. But, Jesus can and will solve a whole heck of a lot THROUGH you! That's precisely why He said that the greatest commandment was to love your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. The love that you pour on to your neighbors can't all come from you, and Jesus knew this. He knew that kind of love only comes from up top. So spend a ton of time praying, dialing into the word, praising Him, giving thanks, and THEN show up with what little bread and fish you have, pray a lot, and let Jesus take the wheel.

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