The Rhythm of Patience

You don’t love someone for their looks, or their clothes, or their fancy car, but because they sing a song only you can hear. – Helen Keller, The Story of My Life

I think Helen Keller was onto something with this quote. But I’d modify it to say that when you’re with the right person, your lives together create a song that’s so beautiful that you’re happy to sing it together for life… through verses of joy, pain, triumphs, sorrows, etc. A song that changes over time, rebalancing and shifting as your individual “voices” change, layering in new ideas and skills. But hopefully with joy threading throughout. Maybe it’s a little discordant at times or you hit the wrong note, but you adjust to get back into a harmony that allows your individual voices to create a more beautiful whole. Continue reading

Emotional Reciprocity v. Emotional Generosity

“I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you simply, without problems or pride: I love you in this way because I do not know any other way of loving but this, in which there is no I or you, so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand, so intimate that when I fall asleep your eyes close.” ― Pablo Neruda, 100 Love Sonnets

I’ve been thinking a lot about love this week as part of week one of the FSSP. And I’ve found myself primarily focusing on how I want to be loved. Which, strangely, didn’t occur to me as the worst possible approach until I tried to sit down tonight and put together some thoughts about what I’ve “learned” in the process. Which as of an hour ago had amounted to, umm, nothing.

But, like any good Type A personality, I don’t like to fail at things. And it’s the first week. So instead of watching back to back episodes of Season 2 of Game of Thrones (so inappropriate but so addictive), I sat down with a stack of books (devotionals, bible, etc.) and tried to gut out something profound. This lasted about two minutes, at which point I Googled “how to love people.” Which is when I realized that I really, really, really didn’t learn anything this week. And that I suck at loving people.

Don’t worry… this was a turning point. (Otherwise this would be a very short, very depressing post.)

Most of my self-focused thoughts on love this week boil down to the idea of emotional reciprocity. Basically I feel the most loved when I’m in relationships where there is equality of investment. Ones where I want to hang out with the other person as much as they want to hang out with me, where we pretty much equally initiate communication, etc. Those blissfully mutual relationships that feel (at least for some magical period of time) like they’re both deeper and somehow less effort than other relationships. Your investment of time, trust, and emotion is immediately repaid in full. They just feel good.

The people with whom you have emotional reciprocity are the ones in your inner circle who want to be there. Trying to force someone to reciprocate your feelings is a quick road to hurt and anger. It’s a road I’ve found myself on recently so this is what I spent the week thinking about. [For those of you who are now completely distracted by the idea that the last sentence is my way of saying that I’ve been harboring unrequited romantic feels for someone and they’re just crushing my soul by not loving me back… sorry to disappoint you. I’m talking about friends here. Better luck next time. Now stop trying to guess who I hypothetically liked and focus.]

As of two hours ago I’d come to the logical conclusion that I needed to reevaluate my inner circle. The people who I was relying on were proving to be unreliable so they were getting cut and replaced. I made a joke that some people were being “cut from the team” and that I was “taking applications,” but this wasn’t too far from the actual plan.

So you can see why I found myself at loose ends when I sat down to write about how to love others well. I’d just spent the entire week thinking about how to make others love me well. Spiritual growth fail. 

This is the point at which I decided that my own logic was probably flawed and that I should maybe stop thinking so hard about love and start listening to what God went through a lot of trouble to tell us (over and over and over again) about love in the Bible. Which is when I ran into this little hammer of a verse:

“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” 1 John 4:9-12 (ESV)

This verse outlines something that runs completely contrary to emotional reciprocity. God loved us before we ever loved Him. His love is not contingent upon ours. God’s love paints a picture for us of emotional generosity. And as I read through verse after verse, this was the theme that kept coming back to me. That we are called to live lives that are emotionally generous. To love first, reach out first, listen first. Because doing these things doesn’t just tell others about who we are, but also about who God is.

We have the opportunity to be weak, broken mirrors that imperfectly reflect the blinding brilliance of God’s love, but that imperfect reflection can be the glimpse someone needs to comprehend that God could love them. That brief glimpse might be the thing that makes it just a little easier for them to step towards Christ.

So here’s my hypothesis: I think (hope) that the joy and purpose that we receive in the process of being emotionally generous will make up for what we give up by not seeking emotional reciprocity. Because, really, having relationships with people who don’t initiate text conversations  or hanging out as much as I do (no joke, these are the kinds of things I’m judging you all on) should be a pretty easy thing to accept when the tradeoff is the opportunity to better reflect God. And frankly I’m hoping that I learn to better understand, accept, appreciate, and enjoy God’s love for me in the process.

(And yes, I do realize that this entire thing just wrapped back around to me feeling more loved, which was my selfish goal in the first place. It’s funny how often God convinces me to take a different path and it ends up going somewhere that I wanted to go anyway but was failing to find….)

Okay, enough with the words. Let’s get to the action part of the FSSP. How do I execute on my hypothesis and actually love others better? I’ll tell you how. I’m going to pick three people and be intentionally emotionally generous with them this weekend. I just wrote their names down. Don’t worry, you’re probably not one of them. Unless you are. Try not to be paranoid if I’m being nice to you. Sometimes I’m just nice.

Anyway, in these three relationships I’m going to listen first, serve first, etc. without regard to how well the other person returns any of those things. And I’m going to do it with joy and a peaceful heart, knowing that this outpouring of my own emotional capacity is simply expanding the room in my own heart for God to fill with himself.

Win, win. I love a plan where everyone wins. Maybe these little love seeds will grow into something after all…

The Fruit of the Spirit Summer Project – Week 1 – LOVE

I’ve been really, really angry lately. Hateful even. Not my normal style (or so I hope).

Which means that I have a lot of work to do to successfully pull off week one of FSSP. It’s a long journey from hate to love. A journey that the Lord started preparing my heart for last night in some very obvious ways. Against my will and without my permission. I was considering staying in HateVille indefinitely, which is a strangely cathartic place to be. But the Lord had other plans and apparently decided to play the whole “I am all powerful” card and force my hand.

Anyway, here’s the story of how the Lord started doing the heavy lifting for me last night:

I go to The Rock Church in Minneapolis, MN. We have services on Friday nights at 7:30. I was there last night. Kind of against my will. It was a rough week and I’d been indulging in struggling with some pretty serious anger about the varying degrees to which I felt like some of my closest friends from The Rock had suddenly disappeared over the six weeks since I started having seizures (Can you feel the drama here? It was not pretty).

My friend Natasha (who I’m never angry with because she is both hilarious and awesome… see footnote at the end of this post regarding her awesomeness) came over to listen to me vent hang out before church. When Natasha arrived I tried to talk her into going to see a movie instead of going to church. But she refused to play along. Thanks to my seizures Natasha was also my chauffer for the evening so she pretty much had final say on where we were going. And she said we were going to church. Kate’s Anger – 0 / God – 1

So we went to church. And one of my friends, who’d been the unsuspecting recipient of about 80% of my pent-up wrath during the week, acted totally normal when they saw me (despite having pretty much been verbally back-handed the day before). Receiving grace from others when you don’t deserve it makes it really hard to be angry. Kate’s Anger – 0 / God – 2

One of my favorite things about The Rock is our worship music. We—literally—Rock. I love singing. I sing loud and repeatedly bump into whoever is next to me because I’m kind-of-sort-of dancing. Except last night. I was fine for the first three songs. I don’t remember what they were but they were about God and who He is. I’m down with that.

But then they played a song called He Loves Us, which is one of my favorites. Check it out later (or now… I’ll wait). So the band starts playing this song. And I’m silent. Not “I’m so overwhelmed by your love that I can’t get the words out” silent. This was… “I’m can’t sing this right now because I’m not sure I believe it” silent.

I just stood there with my arms wrapped around myself in one of those defensive self-hugs that I almost never do (and distinctly remember doing the first time I ever came to The Rock and felt probably about as broken as I felt last night). I was not disengaged or angry. Just still. And empty. In those three minutes or so I realized that at that moment I didn’t believe those lyrics. Which was a big deal. And probably the clearest way that God could have shown me that I was having a serious heart problem. Kate’s Anger – 0 / God – 3

Then the message started. It was a good one. I just checked and the link to the recording isn’t up yet, but once it is I’ll post it. It was about guarding your heart and mind so that the things that go into them produce good fruit. About staying encouraged and joyful. As soon as Karl (the pastor) started speaking, I knew it was going to be a painfully on-point sermon.

One of the verses Karl used was Mathew 12:34-35, which says:

For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. (ESV).

My initial thought was “How can joy brim over from the black and empty pit where my heart is?” (I know, my thought life is more dramatic than you were expecting from an accountant, right?).

Karl went on to show a slide with two lists. On one side were characteristics that result from a good heart: joyful, friendly, kind, helpful, cheerful, positive. On the other side were characteristics that result from a bad heart: frustrated, angry, gossipy, selfish, worried, complaining, depressed. Yeah, guess which side of that list described me this past week? Not the good side. Again, signs of a serious heart problem. Kate’s Anger – 0 / God – 4

Then this morning I had some time to kill before my favorite coffee shop would be open so that I could go do my first quiet time of the week on love (after all, coffee equals love). While I waited to leave, I flipped open one of my C.S. Lewis books in a half-hearted attempt to let the Lord show me something that would help me to get in the right frame of mind to consider the topic of love.

My attitude was half sarcasm, half unspoken plea that He’d help shake me out of this week-long funk. The equivalent of a mental eye roll, a sigh, and an “Okay, Lord. Here’s your big chance…” all in one. An attitude that I find myself having more often than I should and He has yet to smite me. If I was God and someone was giving me that crap, I would definitely want to smite them. Luckily for all of us, I am not God.

Anyway, this is what I flipped open to:

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”

Let me translate that for you:

“Stop being such a self-centered jerk and look around you. God loves all these people and you’re missing the big picture when you reduce them to mere satellites in your overly dramatic, self-centered life. Maybe you should connect with someone and do something that could have an eternal impact instead of feeling sorry for yourself. Man up.”

Kate’s Anger – 0 / God – 5

Side note: Most of my translations of C.S. Lewis quotes end with the phrase “man up,” which I find strangely motivating considering that I am not, in fact, a man.

Okay, let’s wrap this up because my point is really this:

When I think about this FSSP, I tend to go straight for the cliché gardening images. We’re talking about growing spiritual fruit after all. Why reach for the unnecessarily complicated analogy when God already set up an analogy for you? So I won’t. Let’s stick with gardening. So the theoretical goal before me is to grow some love within a week. I don’t grow things in real life so this is all conjecture, but my understanding is that you till the soil, drop the right seeds, cover the seeds up, feed/water the seeds, and wait for plants to grow.

So let’s pretend I’ve got a little plot of dirt where I’m supposed to be growing these things. Well, as of yesterday, the spot where I’m supposed to plant and grow love was covered up by a cement block. One of those little trowel things was not going to be sufficient to break this cement up so that I could get to the soil underneath. And frankly just looking at that cement block and thinking about how to break it up and move it out of the way would have been exhausting. I would probably have given up before I even got startred. But the Lord knew what I was going to need to do and prepared the ground for me. So when I showed up this morning with my wimpy trowel and seeds (coffee and Bible?), the concrete was already broken up and I just had to muscle the chunks out of the way and get to work on the ground underneath.

Now I just need to figure out how to adjust the acidity (ahem, hatefulness) of this soil so that it doesn’t kill these cute little love seeds…

 

 

**Side note re: Natasha’s awesomeness: Natasha is a good friend. She is, for example, the kind of friend with whom you can have the following text conversation (actual conversation modified slightly for clarity):

[Two hours before we’re supposed to get together]

Kate: Hey, can you pick me up tonight for our coffee date?

Natasha: Absolutely!

Natasha: Where am I picking you up at?

Kate: Thanks. By the way…you are hilarious for saying yes before asking where I’m at. What if I said Wisconsin?

Natasha: I’d leave now (to come pick you up).

Kate: Best answer ever. But I’m at my house. You can pick me up there.

 

The Fruit of the Spirit Summer Project (FSSP)

I wrote this about a week ago and sent it out to a bunch of the singles at my church. Then I realized that some of you might want to participate so I’m reproducing it here. I believe it’s the shortest post on this site so far, which is reason enough to read it.

I don’t know about you, but I tend to fall away from things in the summer. We’re all busy traveling and those of us in Minnesota are busy soaking up as much Vitamin D as possible in preparation for another seven (ahem, nine?) months of winter. As a result, I end up missing things–church events, quiet times, service opportunities, etc. This inconsistency often leads to missed opportunities—for both growth and outreach.

In an effort to disrupt this pattern, I’m planning to do a little summer project. The key here is little. As in teeny, tiny.

Mark (our pastor at the Rock) has mentioned the fruit of the Spirit several times in the past few weeks and it keeps popping into my head. I thought I’d combine some weekly reading in Galatians (a short, summer-length book if ever there was one) with a weekly focus on a specific one of the fruits of the spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23. Here’s the schedule I’m planning on using:  

Week of: Reading Fruit of the Spirit to Focus On
June 8, 2013 Galatians 1 Love
June 15, 2013 Galatians 2 Joy
June 22, 2013 Galatians 3 Peace
June 29, 2013 Galatians 4 Patience
July 6, 2013 Galatians 5 Kindness
July 13, 2013 Galatians 6 Goodness
July 20, 2013 Galatians 1 Faithfulness
July 27, 2013 Galatians 2 Gentleness
August 3, 2013 Galatians 3 Self-Control
August 10, 2013 Galatians 4 Love

For example, for week one I’ll read Galatians 1 during one of my quiet times and reflect on it (probably during my first quiet time of the week). Then I’ll brainstorm ways that I can be more loving (that week’s fruit of the spirit). I’ll probably try to find some other verses that talk about love. I’ll be intentional about praying in each of my quiet times that week that God will show me opportunities to grow in this particular area. And I’ll come up with some specific action(s) that I can do during the week that exercise exceptional love. Pretty easy, right? The goal is just to stay engaged and intentional during the summer in a way that is simple enough to fit in with my summer chaos.

Anyway, I thought it could be cool to do with some other people if any of you are interested. I don’t want to add anything to anyone’s schedule so we wouldn’t get together at all, but we could talk / email about ideas we have or things that come out of our reflection and actions each week. Or (for the overachievers among us) we could coordinate our big act of love/whatever for the week. We’ll see what happens (or doesn’t).

End of email. So I’ll be posting a few times a week as I work through this project. Which leads me into the next post… about my extremely rough start to Week 1: Love. Rough as in walking across hot coals. Slowly. With bare feet. While carrying a 150 lbs sand bag. For miles.