Years ago I heard a person far more experienced in the ways of faith than I say, “It’s simple really.” He was talking about a life of faith, a life in Christ. At the time I found myself thinking, “What? How can that be? That’s not been my experience.”
Today, as I hear those words, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” and couple them with the commandment to love one another, I find myself again thinking “It’s not that simple.” Think about the things Jesus says, the things Jesus asks of those who would follow him:
“Sell all you have and give it to the poor.”
“Go and sin no more.”
“Forgive seventy times seven times.”
“Be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect.”
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
“Turn the other cheek.”
That’s an impossibly high standard Jesus is setting. No one I know can reach that bar. We all fall short of the mark. And yet Jesus bids us follow him. Jesus commands us to love one another. Jesus invites us into that circle of friendship with God and one another. How do we, mere mortals that we are, live in love and friendship with one another and with the one who calls into life?
One thing is for sure—it’s not a matter of simply clicking the like button. Think of your own deep friendships. The ones that have stood the test of time. Remember the bumps in the road. The challenges you faced. The times you were ready to throw in the towel. The fallow times. The times when it felt like you were drifting apart. The times when you said “enough”. There are seasons in any long-standing and loving relationship—seasons of drought and seasons of abundance and mud season too.
It’s not easy to be a friend. Living in love and friendship takes work and time and attention. Making time for the friendship to grow and thrive. Putting aside your interests in the interest of your friend. Laying down your life for your friend as it were. Letting go of your convenience or your needs or your self-importance. Putting the friendship first.
“Love one another,” Jesus says to his disciples. It’s a commandment he gives twice. “Love one another as I have loved you.” Love is hard. Loving like Jesus. How? Even on my best days, even when I’ve had a good night’s sleep and lots of exercise and spent considerable time in prayer, I don’t come close to that kind of love. And so I wonder, “What is Jesus asking of me? What is Jesus asking of us?”
I’m beginning to think that the key to it all is in forgiveness. Not ours but God’s. The kind of forgiveness that just happens. That’s the way of deep forgiveness. You wake up one day and find that that old hurt no longer has hold on you. You’ve moved beyond that point of pain, resentment, anger. You’re in a different place. The hurt’s gone. Forgiveness happened through you more than by you.
I wonder if it’s that way with the love Jesus calls us to. I wonder if that love Jesus calls us to is something that just settles in us, that comes to abide in us—kind of like Carl Sandburg’s fog coming in on little cat paws surprising us when we look up and see it there in us and around us.
I’m beginning to wonder if abiding in God’s love opens the door to loving one another. God’s love moving in us the way forgiveness moves in us prompting us to the patience and the kindness and the generosity of spirit and good humor that are characteristic of deep love.
I’m beginning to wonder if love is the fruit that that grows on that vine Jesus talks about, the true vine we know as Christ. When we’re attached to the true vine, we get all the nurturing that we need to grow in love. Love is our response to the love we receive in God. We can’t help it. It flows through us like the nutrients flowing through the vine to the grape.
“Love one another as I have loved you,” Jesus says to his disciples. He’s not talking about a feeling. He’s not talking about a kind of extended liking. He’s talking about a way of living that involves coming back again and again to those one loves. A way of forgiving time and again. A love that welcomes people as they are. A love that delights in people. A love that says in ways big and small, “You are my beloved. With you I am well pleased.” A nurturing kind of love. A life-giving love. The kind of love we all long for.
Today is Mothers Day—a day fraught with complexities. For some this is a day that reminds them of the nurturing love they longed for but never received. Others find in this day a painful reminder of losses—mothers gone, children never born, children dead before their time. I like to think of this day as a day that invites us to remember the nurturing, loving mothering that runs through every life. Mothering we receive sometimes from our mothers, sometimes from our fathers, sometimes from our friends, sometimes from teachers or bosses or neighbors, and sometimes from total strangers. Mothering that is not gendered. Mothering that is simply an expression of deep, life-giving love. Mothering love—the love of Christ and the love Christ calls us to.