Wednesday, April 18, 2012

No Greater Gift

The wee lass and I were walking the ChiWeenie yesterday and my heart was heavy.  But even with the weight of sorrow wrapped around me like a winter stole, I was blessed.  

The encouragement! The wisdom and compassion that pours naturally from the lips of my baby girl! 

I wonder at times how she could possibly love me, and how she can be so patient with a mother who has spent the past 3 years in the Slough of Despond.  But she journeys with me with intention.  She's a "can do!" kid.

She thinks through, rehearses, and reinforces her faith alongside me. She's gentle and tenacious.  She never gives up.

So there I was walking with her, while carrying a little bag of ChiWeenie poop down the street to the trash can, and somehow we are having a conversation about honor, and John 15:13, which says, "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends."  We talked about what it means to lay down your life.

When I became a Christian over 25 years ago, one of the odd, unexpected blessings that came with my faith has been seeing how the horrors of my past made a path for me to give my life away.  

By the time I was 25 years old, I'd survived a deadly illness, and many years of horrific physical, sexual, emotional and spiritual abuse. I had already died many, many times. 

There was a period of time, even well into my Christian walk, when those re-run deaths numbed me to everything, and so giving myself away was more like throwing myself away. What did I really care if someone treated me badly? Been there. Done that. Whatever. I just didn't care.  So I'd make airport runs and help people move, etc, the way some people take out the trash or flush the toilet. 

If someone wanted to come in and kill me, I'd have held the door for them.  It was that bad.

The fits and starts of my early Christian walk meant flirtations with selflessness, and practice rounds of giving my life away for God to use, but I'd often retreat and take cover if I sensed a measuring stick  (real or imagined) being used to quantify my faith by my works.

But something shifted when I saw that same brand of inner death, fear, and emptiness in the life of another Christian woman...someone whose troubles and issues seemed to have left her cast off and rejected by all but one beautiful, godly woman who laid down her life...again and again and again...without expectation.  

I'd never seen or known anyone who would so willingly, faithfully, and consistently walk into the vortex of physical and spiritual danger, fear, pain, suffering, sickness, and trouble of every kind for the sake of someone she loved who had virtually nothing to offer in return. 

Someone might argue that there was an inherent obligation, or an underlying selfishness at play, but I'm not buying it. Frankly, I've heard that kind of cynicism about Mother Teresa too, but gimme a frippin' break! 

There comes a point where the investments of obligation and self-interest stop paying any dividends that are high enough to warrant the sacrifice...otherwise everyone would care for the broken. This was the hand and heart of God hanging on and loving into the deep darkness of another woman's pain and sin.

So when my princess and I were walking and talking about what it means to lay down your life for a friend, I couldn't help remembering something a friend said to me the other day after hearing a little bit about a burden in my life.  

"You have to do what's good for you," she said.  And what she meant was, "Don't give your life if you're not going to get it back from the person you give it for."  

That didn't sit well with me.  In fact, it bugged me on and off through the weekend. So there I was, walking and talking to my child about love, honor, faithfulness, long-suffering, loyalty, and what it really means to give yourself away. 

I heard myself make something of a speech to my sweet girl (who is a beautiful listener, if you ever need a friend...just sayin').

Laying down your life for a friend isn't always taking a bullet and dying for your best buddy, your family, or your country...though it might be.  

But most of us aren't ever asked to do that, and we should be very grateful because that kind of sacrifice can't be undone. Lots of people are left very sad in life, for example, because their son or daughter, mother or father, sister or brother, friend or co-worker died in a war, or trying to save someone or something.  

There's honor in that, but there's a lot of pain...a whole lot of pain for a whole lot of people.  

But most of us aren't asked to lay down our lives in that way.  And laying down your life for a friend can sometimes be more difficult than dying if you do it and keep living.

"What do you mean?" my little darling asked.

When you lay down your life and die for anyone or anything, your suffering is over. People may even honor you for your efforts.  The ones left behind have to carry both the blessing of your honor and the suffering of your loss, but you, yourself, are safe.

Poop bag dropped off. Pooch walking continues. Brief assurance chat about the people we've lost recently who are in Heaven and safe. Mutual decision to skip any talk about the ones from our clan who likely faced the alternative. 

I said the verse from John again.

Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.

"So, how else do you lay down your life, and who gets the love?  I think it's both people," says my wise wonder-baby all in one breath.

To lay down your life is like taking all the things you want to do for yourself...your needs, your plans, your desires, your comfort, your fun, your time, your energy, lots of times your money, sometimes your reputation...probably your sleep...most if not all of what belongs to you...maybe a lot that you've worked for very hard, or looked forward to very much...and you put it down...sometimes not knowing if you will ever be able to pick it up again.

It's like laying your good life aside to do whatever you can to help someone else have their plans, their desires, their needs...all of those things I mentioned...first...before you...and maybe even better than you.  

And it's only real laying down your life if you don't want anything back for yourself. Although when it's for someone you love, you can't help wanting them to love you back.

"God's probably OK with that," said my confident girl.

Probably..but you sort of need to decide in advance that what you get doesn't figure into your decision. 

You have to decide in advance that you'll gladly accept the most disappointing outcome.  Your friend owes you nothing. Your friend can walk away full and leave you empty.  You have to decide that your fullness comes from God.

I choked up.  Her eyes filled in response...and then we wept...right there on the sidewalk with a ChiWeenie on the leash, we wept an open flood of tears.  

"That's really hard," she said. "But it's beautiful."

Quiet pause...

"That's exactly what <the name of someone we love> did for <the name of someone we love who died> for a long time. That's what we try to do for her now, so we're doing the Bible, kind of."  

Yes, Sweetie.  It sure is.  And we try to do the Bible.

But it's only because of what Jesus did for us.  We couldn't do anything good otherwise.

That's why he says it's not easy to follow follow Him for real you have to give yourself away so that he can use you...again and again and again.  And sometimes there's no reward here on earth.  It's super hard...and we don't always do it very well...even when we mean to do it great.

"Yea...but we should keep doing it, OK?  We have enough."

Yes...we have enough...

"When someone you love, your friend, goes through all that for someone else and gets all empty--like they are really sad and lonely and stuff, even if they have Jesus--someone should lay down their life for them because they did it for someone else. It's kinda the law. I mean you pretty much need to help and just do it..."  

Well...yes...I mean...that's certainly what God intended when He commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves, but He probably made it a commandment because no one would ever do it otherwise.  

"But we don't need a commandment; we already want to do it out of love." 

For sure, my big-hearted sweetheart!  But remember...there are no guarantees.  You may end up very hurt and disappointed.  

Remember...there are no have to be prepared to walk away empty handed...maybe even betrayed.  It happens.

"Ya, and I so get that, but God already told me he's going to fix everything. Everything is going to get better soon. I promise. God really told me."

How did He tell you, Sweetie?  I need to know because it's my job to be wise and protect you and help you believe the right things.  You can get very, very empty when you give yourself away, and sometimes nothing gets full even though you tried so hard to do your part.

"But sometimes it just takes a while for people to realize they're full because they feel so empty. But when they realize they've been getting filled up and that you didn't mind, then they're glad with God and get happy. And they probably love you even without you asking."

Maybe, I said.  But don't plan on it, or it's almost like cheating.

"Don't argue with the 11 year old in your life," the wee lass scolded me.  "God told me, so it's not cheating, it's just like some granola to help us keep going. We can't stop now. I already know how it ends and we get the girl!"

She winks and flashes her cherub smile.  (Is it possible that I gave birth to an angel????)

And so the flood of tears carried us back to the house and in to make dinner. My princess flies over the rainbow.  Why then, oh why can't I?

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