Sunday, April 14, 2013

'Above all, love each other deeply'

1 Peter 4:8-11 (NIV)

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
As the end of this year-long project draws near, it is tempting to try to look back to identify themes or big-picture lessons, to determine if there’s been any personal growth or if it’s been a lot of noise without much action. And then along comes a passage such as this, with the nice “Above all” introduction that reminds me anything I might have discovered in the last 12 months is not my own knowledge or wisdom but something merely revealed through study, reflection and prayer. That I felt called into this effort is a blessing in its own, since I continue to feel God invited me along this road as a means of changing some things in my outlook to point me in a new direction.

All throughout the year I’ve been thrilled to come upon these little snippets of Scripture that serve almost as scripts for things I want to tell my children, or lessons I need to learn myself — or both. Love deeply. Be kind without complaining. Use your talents to serve other people. Speak and act to reflect God’s greatness. Give praise and glory to God. That’s just from a few verses in 1 Peter. I would like to add them to my (still hypothetical) list of things to read and reflect on each morning before, but if I actually had that list I’d probably need to set the alarm ahead 30 minutes just to get through it all each day. And since my actual alarm is the two-year-old who lives across the hall, I think I’ll continue letting him get all the sleep he needs.

One thing that keeps popping up In my mind is the many different types of relationships I ought to be considering when encountering these commands. It is easy, it would seem, to love my wife and children deeply. Friends and neighbors, too, but defining deeply gets a bit more complex. Yet it’s far easier to offer hospitality without complaint to those I barely know — holding open an elevator door, allowing someone in front of me at the checkout line — than it is to stop what I’m doing to fill up another cup of water or open a bag of snacks for kids who haven’t quite mastered politeness.

To truly care about someone is to love them in ways that go far beyond hugs and happiness. For the kids this means being patient as they learn and grow, caring for them when they are sick or angry and setting firm limits when we can envision the long-term benefits of short-term disappointment. And it’s different altogether in a spousal relationship, but this is not and won’t be a dedicated exploration of those dynamics. Suffice it to say whenever I read the word love, four very special faces come to mind every time before anything else.

But we’re called to love everyone deeply, not just those with whom we share a roof or who are around the Thanksgiving dinner table. And focusing too acutely on the love inside a family might come at the expense of remembering how to love those on the outside, everyone else made by the same hand of those with our common DNA. I might have done a lot of thinking about how to be a better dad, but I can’t say for sure if it’s done anything for the eternal quest to be a better person.

Thinking about serving others, of being a faithful steward of God’s grace, speaking God’s word, serving with God’s strength is to consider a majestically tall order. As I stare at these words, it’s much easier to come up with examples of times I’ve failed on one or all of those counts than to cite success stories of living up to the standard. I tend to be optimistic about what the world offers me — I’m usually the first to say, “It’s not as bad as it seems” or, “On the bright side…” — but inwardly I can be an incredibly harsh critic. I don’t think I’m one to hold grudges against others, yet it’s pretty easy to run myself repeatedly into the ground for a failing long past possible correction.

Yet ultimately, it seems if I define myself first as a husband and father, that’s where my priority rests. And so long as I don’t make family life completely insular, if I’m working on those aspects first and foremost, my general “as the world sees me” profile ought to improve concurrently. Beyond that, since one of the things I want to teach my kids is how to be the kind of person God calls us to be, then setting a good example for them in the way I interact with others is just one more component of the parenting process.

In everything I think, say and do, I’m trying to consider how that affects me as a parent. Am I carrying myself in a manner I’d want my sons to emulate? Am I behaving as if I were holding one of them on my hip? Can my dealings while we’re apart be shared with them honestly when we’re together; or, from the converse view, am I doing anything I that would bring me shame? Am I showing them what it means to struggle and how to seek God’s help to overcome, or am I simply trying to convey an image of unflappable success and therefore shielding them from the truth that life is anything but easy?

Just as I could start each day with 30 minutes of affirmation and inspiration, I could spend the same half hour with pointed introspection, challenging myself in all my areas of weakness and forcing me into raw accountability for specific shortcomings. The best recipe is probably a combination form both pools, lest I build up too much unfounded confidence or wade too deeply into waters of regret and pain. Fortunately the wisdom comes from far outside my own mind, and this far it’s continued to lead me in a good direction.

These words of Peter are powerful, and I’m glad they came to my attention today in order that I might filter myself through them. And I hope I don’t leave them here as soon as I’m done writing. I intend to, as with so many other thoughts, carry them with me daily, enriching my spiritual wellness and maybe just making me see the world a little bit more clearly. And that’s where God comes in, to help me take words, turn them into thoughts and then set them permanently in my mind so it shapes my very being. I want very much for God to do these things with me and for me, and I’ve got to be involved in making that a reality.

A prayer for April 14:

Lord, help me to love deeply. Teach me to take the abundance of your love for me, let it wash over me and then be offered out for the benefit of all I encounter. It’s written that love covers a multitude of sins, but better still if loving as you instruct leads me to a place where sin is overcome. I very much want to be a faithful steward of your grace, and I open myself to any opportunities to speak as you would have me speak and to serve with your strength. To you alone be all glory and praise, now and forever. Amen.

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