In 2012, my major “resolution” was to live a life of love. I know myself well enough to know that I cannot simply will myself to be loving, and so this resolution is really a request for God to transform me. I also know, though, that there are some things that I can do to try to realign my life with Jesus’ standards. Here is a little “update” on my attempt at an Eph. 5:2 style “love life.”
You know that phrase, “I’m a lover, not a fighter?”
That phrase doesn’t describe me.
Instead, this is what describes me:
Because I am a lover, I am also a fighter.
I am a lover of God, of my family, of my church, of the people in this world. And I fight for what I love. In some ways, my view of the world is…combative. In some ways, I see life as one big struggle. A brutiful struggle, mind you, but a struggle nonetheless. And I guess it is because of that perception that “fighting” metaphors really resonate with me, especially ones where the struggle is against seemingly impossible obstacles. Lost causes, if you will.
Maybe that’s why my college dorm room was decorated with quotes like this one:
“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.” –Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird
Or why I literally tear up when I watch scenes like this:
Or why I get chills when I hear these words, from Winston Churchill:
We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France,
we shall fight on the seas and oceans,
we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be,
we shall fight on the beaches,
we shall fight on the landing grounds,
we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
we shall fight in the hills;
we shall never surrender…
And maybe that’s why I have such a hard time with Jesus’ words in Matthew 5: 38-48. I desperately want to follow Jesus and to take His commands seriously, but I just don’t understand commands that seem to tell you not to struggle, not to resist, the darkness around you.
I am coming to see, however, that the Christian life is not about laying one’s weapons down. Instead, it is about trading in the weapons of the world for better weapons, God’s weapons. And it is about recognizing our true enemy, and not mistaking our enemy for the civilians among which he hides. My last post was an attempt to flesh those thoughts out using my understanding of the New Testament. This post will be an attempt to flesh them out using my recent experience.
Since my recent experience deals with real people, I want to describe it in as general terms as possible. In fact, the reason it has taken me so long to post it is because I have struggled with just how to portray it. Here’s what I came up with:
A few weeks ago, a fellow soldier and I were on a mission of reconciliation. Our goal was to use church resources to help reconcile some teens to God. For most of our mission, we had what seemed to be success. Relationships were built; messages of reconciliation were delivered and received; love was poured. At the very end, however, things went downhill. As leaders of this mission, we made a decision that we thought was best for the group. This decision was not well-received, and abruptly, we found ourselves under attack by two people while we were driving home. The attack was incredibly vitriolic and personal. Weapons of this world were being hurled at us with bewildering ferocity. I actually had the image of bombs raining down on us while the attack went on. My fellow worker and I looked at each other in absolute shock. Then, we both reached for the only weapon we were mandated to use: love.
We both tried–oh, how we tried!–to use love the right way. It is not a weapon that one is used to using in such a harsh attack, and honestly, there was some trial and error in trying to use it effectively. This particular battle went on for what seemed an interminably long time. Every kind and peaceful thing we tried to say was immediately dismissed and overpowered. We really didn’t know what to do. It almost seemed easier to capitulate, to give in to the rage. But we both truly believed that it was the wrong thing to do, that it was truly not in the best interest of the people in question. Since they were in our care, we became more and more convicted that we could not let them think that their strategy of rage and hatred was the way to succeed. We had to show them a better way. So we held the line. Calmly, peaceably, we held the line.
Here is a confession, though: I was physically shaking throughout the encounter. Afterwards, my fellow soldier told me that she was, too. It was as if we had a whole pile of grenades between us that our survival instincts were screaming for us to use. In this verbal battle, we could win; we could fight fire with fire and demolish our opponents. We were older, better with words, and frankly, we had the benefit of being right. But those grenades would have taken out the bridges between us and the people we were trying to reconcile with God. We would have burned them. And we weren’t willing to do that, as much as a burned bridge sounded kind of tempting in the moment. So we didn’t use the grenades, even though every instinct inside me told me to do it. That’s why I was shaking: it wasn’t from rage; it was from self-control. Restraint. Despite our mutual longing for grenades, we tried our best to use love. We fumbled, and tried again, and then fumbled again, and then tried again. In the end, it is even hard to say who won. I ended it by reasserting my love for my two “opponents,” and sharing with them the good things that I wanted for them. Both of them softened at the time, and one has since issued a heartfelt apology. I haven’t seen the other.
I will say this: I came away from the encounter exhausted, severely shaken…and mentally illuminated. Finally, in ways that penetrated to the depths of my knowledge, I understood the idea of turning the other cheek. Turning the other cheek does not mean surrender. It does not mean that you don’t fight. On the contrary, I don’t know that I have ever fought as hard as I did that night. Instead, turning the other cheek is part of fighting with love. That night, I saw that love didn’t protect my pride and feelings like verbal retaliation would have. Instead, love left my pride and feelings very vulnerable, and they suffered as a result. But when I chose to use love, I chose to let my pride and feelings suffer rather than compromise my mission. And that was turning the other cheek.
I am not going to attempt to universalize that experience right now or to extract principles to apply in every situation. I just want to let it be what it was: an experiential lesson in turning the other cheek. Like I said, I was exhausted when my mission was over…and yet, I also felt very, very…strong. I felt like I had won the battle, although certainly not the war. I went home with peace in my heart, and love in my soul. In a weird way, I am even thankful for the experience. It definitely served as an important lesson in my year of trying to live a life of love. God taught me more about love in that one battle than I could have ever learned simply from reading Scripture. That night, He took the Scriptures I had read and gave me a chance to apply them. I pray that I did well, that I passed whatever test He might have been giving me. I pray that I made God proud as a soldier in His army. And I pray that the love we so clumsily tried to show that night will plant itself in the souls that were present and that it will stay with them as a picture of God’s love for them.
I know it will stay with me…