March 13th, 2023 by Carl Buffington
At the end of my days, I would like my epitaph to read something like,
“Here lies Carl, he loved well.”
Perhaps even before the end of my days. It is said that Annie Dillard said, “The way we live our lives is the way we live our days.“
So I have decided that I would even like to hear at the end of Lent’s days, “Carl Loved Well this Lent.”
Yes, at the end of Lent and Life, I’d like to have loved well.
How do you love others well?
I like to add to Annie’s saying, that the way we live our days is the way we live our moments. So nowadays, I try and keep an eye out for “holy moments.”
I saw one while visiting family in North Carolina a few months ago.
Our nephew Jamie was playing with his two girls, 7 and 9.
It was a true joy to watch. You could feel the presence in the room.
Earlier, he had told me that he wished he was a better breadwinner. His work wasn’t going all that well.
When I saw that moment, it was like a flash went off, a picture of a holy moment.
I later told him that being with those girls is the most valuable thing he can do. Love was magnificently manifest, it was tangible. (I’m thankful that he respects me and doesn’t think I’m a bit off.)
I was contemplating this the other day, working on how to do that, i.e. how to love others well, in moments, days, seasons, and life.
I came home from a difficult time in traffic, carrying a couple of frustrations, not of any real note mind you, and within 15 minutes I had yelled at both dogs, Tilly and Sammy, and barked at Barb.
I didn’t love well in that moment - there’s more to it than wishing or willing.
Thus, proving a point I want to make in this blog, that the one command Jesus gives us, to love, not only isn’t easy, it isn’t possible!
At least, the problem is that we can’t do it in and of ourselves.
Psychologist, John Sanford, expands on this in his work Mystical Christianity: A Psychological Commentary on the Gospel of John, “The difficulty from a psychological point of view with this command is that love cannot be willed."
"The person who tries to love by an act of will, will fail… Love must come from the heart if it is to be genuine; it cannot be feigned, not even with the best of intentions.”
So how are we to respond to this command of our Lord? And respond we must as I’m pretty sure we’ll all give an accounting.
There’s a song lyric stuck in my head that goes, “the measure of our lives is the care and clarity with which we love one another.”
And John put it well as well, “We know we have passed from death to life because we love one another.” (1Jn 3.14)
For one, we have to have the new heart that Ezekiel talks about, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ez. 36.26)
One thing to do is to look at Jesus, follow him, watch him, through the gospels. I was doing a DoBeDoBeDo Bible Study through Mark the other day and this verse jumped out (Mark 10.21), “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him…”
When Jesus looked at people he loved them. Another song lyric hit me on a Sunday morning, one my granddaughter Abby was singing at church,
“My heart burst to life
I saw delight in his eyes when
He looked at me”
First John tells us that “we love because He first loved” (4.19). We can only love in that we are loved.
In his book, Man And Woman He Made Them, Jean Vanier makes the point that “Unless one has a profound experience of being loved, it is virtually impossible to express profound love for another.”
It seems to me that it takes nothing less than Jesus in us to love well, to love like he commands, and like he does.
It takes just what he said, a denying of self, a dying to self, taking up a cross, so that he can live in us.
Paul tells us (Rom 5.5) that God’s love is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. And as Ezekiel (36.26) told us, we need to have a new heart. We can ask for the heart and the outpouring of love in prayer.
Lent is a great time to look at loving well and to practice the spiritual disciplines that open us up to God’s presence in us. However, I sometimes bite off more than I can chew.
I once read that Mother Teresa told Henri Nouwen, when he was feeling bad about his spiritual practices, that he needed to be reasonable about his disciplines because of his many teaching and writing responsibilities.
Don’t bite off so much, she told him.
Why not take Romans 5.5 and for 5 minutes in the morning and/or 5 minutes in the evening just sit still, put on a timer, and say, “Okay Lord, you have 5 minutes, pour your love into my new heart.”
Give this practice a try and let me know how it goes in the comments below!