“I don’t really do a good job loving people.”
Upon hearing my random proclamation, my surprised hall-mate immediately shook her head and protested. “That’s not true! You make time for others – you care. You do more than a lot of people!”
I merely stared at her from my seat at the table we had managed to grab in the dining hall; I couldn’t help but feel conflicted. Part of me wanted to hear her reaffirm me. To let me continue to think I had always done my very best in my relationships with others. The other part of me felt ashamed. Why? Why did I feel guilty hearing her say those words?
As I turned my gaze to my plate, realization dawned upon me: just the night before, I had decided to give up on a friendship. I had become bitter and impatient, hurt by an outcome that I didn’t truly understand. Hadn’t I tried to explain my position and clarify matters? Hadn’t I tried my best to not be judging, to be open instead of angry? Why, then, had this particular friend chosen to ignore me for more than a week?
The emotional and mental stress had become too much to bear – I wanted to get rid of it. After all, I felt that such a person didn’t deserve my friendship in the first place. I didn’t want to be so easily crushed and stepped on. Besides, one of the verses my mother often recites came to mind: Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)
As far as I was concerned, I had been honest and innocent in my actions. Now, it was time to be shrewd.
That all changed after Pastor Skinner’s sermon. Despite my unwavering determination to end the relationship, I couldn’t help but feel that something wasn’t right as I stood and sang worship songs, as I attempted to pray and focus, as I sat there and pretended I could still be righteous before God’s eyes. I couldn’t help but feel that God would not have wanted this, that I was being too rash.
It wasn’t until near the end of the sermon that the cold, stone walls I had built came tumbling down with Pastor Skinner’s question to the congregation:
“Think of God’s main two commandments. 1) Love the Lord with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, all your mind, and 2) Love your neighbor as yourself.” He paused for a moment and then asked, “How is your compliance with the great commandments going?”
The silence that came after seemed to stretch on forever. I could feel my resolve weakening; I began to reevaluate myself and my actions. Acknowledging my bitterness and faults was like taking a huge gulp of salty water and accidentally swallowing it – it stung. Nonetheless, the words that Pastor Skinner uttered next gave me the courage to overcome the pain. He smiled and remarked, “Well, that’s why you need Jesus.”
I was shocked at how far I had fallen. Here I was, giving up on someone while Jesus had never given up on me. Being shrewd didn’t mean to stop caring, to stop loving the person. In fact, refusing to be stepped on vs. refusing to love my neighbor as myself were two completely different matters. I wasn’t being shrewd. Instead, I had chosen to become full of spite and anger. If I thought I had been mistreated, what must have Jesus thought as he lay upon that cross?
Quite simply, Jesus loved. He continued to love even as he lay there, bearing the weight of our sins and despair. He loved even as we hurled insults at Him, turned away, spit in His face.
As a follower of Christ, could I do the same? Could I love as He loves? Bluntly, the answer is no. No one can ever love to the extent that God does. Nevertheless, as I stood to sing the concluding worship songs, I knew that I had been freed from my chains – I could still try to emulate Him in the best way I could.
It took me a while, but I managed to pray and offer the situation to God. I then had a chat with my friend over the phone. I was still hurt; heck, I was still bitter. But these feelings now came out of a willingness to repair a relationship instead of a determination to throw it away. Rather than coldly turn my back on the friendship, I decided to bear the full pain of my emotions and work through them in order to rebuild what had been lost. True, my rebuilding wasn’t perfect and I still feel unsure of what will happen next. Still, I had chosen to care again. I had chosen to love. Most importantly, I couldn’t have done it without God.
Thus, how is your compliance with the great commandments going?
Well, that’s why you need Jesus.
1 John 4:19 – We love because He first loved us.
When I first started my fast for Lent, I never really considered connecting with God on a deeper level. In fact, my thoughts were somewhere along the lines of this:
“I guess I’ll pray more and read the Bible…I can’t eat dinner on Wednesdays anyway, so what else am I gonna do? After all, it is Lent…”
Unfortunately, I underestimated my inner nerdiness and became consumed by all the work I had to do – I found myself studying more instead of reflecting on God and His Word. Sad, I know. My high school self would shake her head at me and wonder how I became so boring.
Anyway, the endless amount of homework, tests, papers, and quizzes eventually took its toll and I found myself burnt out. Why do professors insist on thinking that their class is the only one that matters? And don’t even get me started on the LSAT. It will seriously consume your soul and suck the life out of you. I swear, humans are being taken over by mean aliens who can transform into people and convince real humans that tests are a good way to measure the population’s intelligence. Then they sit back and laugh at our pain. Horrible, mean aliens.
Must get back on track. Right.
In any case, I finally decided one day that I should read a quick devotional, and then I could get back to my work. I never suspected that I would end up spending more than 10 minutes on that devotional. And because it really impacted me, I’ll copy and paste it so that you, my dear reader, can be impacted too:
“When you buy a nice piece of jewelry, it is often tucked into a setting of black- or dark-colored velvet. I think it’s designed that way so that your attention is immediately drawn to the beauty of the jewelry. If the packaging were highly decorated, it would compete with the beauty of the treasure.
It reminds me of Paul’s comments about the ministry of Jesus through us, when he said, “We have this treasure in jars of clay” (2 Cor. 4:7 niv). It’s easy to forget that we are the packaging and His work is the treasure. So we adorn our jars of clay, taking credit for the things we do to serve Christ. We seek to bring glory to ourselves when we’ve forgiven someone, or shown mercy, or given generously. The problem is, when we start seeking affirmation and praise for good deeds, we compete with the brilliance of the treasure of God working through us.
When we do things for Christ, it’s not about us but about His glory. The less obvious we are, the more brilliant He becomes. Which is why, Paul says, the treasure has been put in jars of clay so that God would be the one to be glorified. Besides, since when are jars of clay significant? It’s what’s inside that counts!”
– odb.org –
After reading, I sat back in my chair, and stared blankly at my computer screen. What had I been doing? What was my inside? Was it God shining through, or was it my attempt at being one of the best clay jars ever without holding any actual treasure? (Imagine kid crafts where I just stick on those fake jeweled hearts and diamonds haha). Those fake jeweled hearts and diamonds may represent my “achievements,” academic, non-academic, etc., but they would not have been achieved without God’s blessings and grace. Instead, I realized that I should strive to be a simple, clay jar that holds gold, pearls, silver — God. He’s the purest treasure there is, and I need to let His quiet brilliance and majestic beauty shine through me.
In other words, I saw that I had been overzealous in focusing on my work. Although my original intent had been to glorify God, I had forgotten Him in the process. Getting all the “A’s” in the world would mean nothing without Him in my life.
Ultimately, an overdecorated, empty, clay jar is worthless and becomes gaudy. The treasure, on the other hand, is what makes the simple, clay jar beautiful.
– Faith C.
2nd Corinthians 4:7-10
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.