Saturday, May 15, 2010

Surprised by Love

I had always planned to return to Union to finish my M.Div. I did not want to return. I no longer felt called to ministry, I hated God, and felt New York City and Union were the least desirable places in the world to be. I came back to finish my degree because I feel a deep need to finish what I start; to complete the tasks I have undertaken; to do so, when possible, in the place where I began.

So it was that I returned to Union with the intention of spending nine months in slavery to my obsessive need to finish, certain I would be miserable the whole time, fearful at the outset, determined to "get through it," believing that the sense of accomplishment at the end would be worth the pain I was sure to experience in the process. I returned to a place I feared, to be surrounded by people I did not know, to finish a degree I no longer felt passion for, that was supposed to prepare me for a vocation I no longer felt called to, because I was no longer on speaking terms with the God who had called me in the first place, and I hated the Jesus of Mark 5.

Recently, I have been blessed by others. This surprised me. It was surprising because it was so unexpected. The most I expect from others is to be treated with dignity and respect. Anything more profoundly touches me.

What's even more surprising is that I have come to feel a deep love for others.

People have told me that I'm a loving individual. This may be true.

I delight in blessing people. There is little in life that gives me such joy as being able to bless another. It delights me.

Perhaps my motives are profoundly selfish--blessing others because I delight in the process. I often choose to bless others, in word or deed, simply because I love to do it, and not because I have any particular feelings of love for the other person. This is the case with dinners. I love cooking, and I adore being able to share my gifts in the kitchen with others, so I hold dinner parties and feed my friends; or I make a batch of fudge to bless our facilities office because I appreciate they care they take in maintaining our living space; or making May baskets for friends and neighbors because I like making chocolates, and life is always brighter when you share.

Or telling my friends how beautiful they are, or how gentle their spirits, or what a blessing they are because they've spoken Truth to me... I do this because I have a deep conviction that people need to hear that they are appreciated and to know how their actions have affected others; because blessing someone by telling them a truth about themselves, and seeing their response, delights me.

Some people have told me that I'm the most complimentary person they know, and that I come across as totally genuine when I do compliment others. This may be true, in the first, and is certainly true in the second. Spend enough time with me, and people begin to realize that while I may be effusive with my praise for some, I never give an insincere compliments to anyone. (There are some people I see regularly whom I have never complimented; I'm hoping to change this, as I believe everyone has some praiseworthy quality. They are, after all, made in the image of God).

Much as it surprises me when others bless me (because I experience being well-loved by them), what has surprised me most is realizing that I have come to love others.

I tend to see myself as lacking in essential love-feelings. It takes me awhile to warm up to people. I like most everyone I've ever met. Even those toward whom I feel nothing more than apathy or the few whom I outright dislike, I seek to treat them with dignity and respect in the interactions we do have. But most people, well most people I like just fine, and I enjoy spending time with them. I enjoy finding ways to bless them. Somehow, I'm often surprised to find that I my efforts have been effective or that my very presence has had an impact. I tend not to see myself as particularly adept at blessing others. I try, but often feel as though I've failed.

I see this sense of failure as being linked to my failure to experience feelings of love for others. (I sometimes wonder if I'm defective, if I've had experiences that have permanently interrupted my ability to experience feelings of love, despite the healing I have received). I think to myself, "If only I could make the leap from liking this person to loving them, then, surely, I would be able to bless them well." Somewhere deep inside, I doubt people when they tell me that I've blessed them.

I was surprised by love.

It turns out I love a whole lot of people in my life. I feel a deep sense of compassionate love for those around me. At some point in the past nine months, all those friends that I liked an awful lot, became friends that I love and deeply cherish. All those people I wanted to bless because I delight in blessing others became people I want to bless because I delight in them.

So it is that the place I was dreading returning to have become a place I do not want to leave. The place I feared has become a haven, a place that feels safe, a place that I love full of people I love. Strangers I did not know have become friends I want to know for the rest of my life. An experience I felt sure would be naught but misery was an experience in which I was able to be my whole and best self. The degree I no longer felt passion for became a degree I was desperate to have, because the call I no longer felt came back with a vengeance, as the God from whom I was estranged became an intimate friend once more. The Jesus I hated became a Jesus with whom I am head-over-heels, butt-crazy in love with; a desperate for more of, can't get enough of, want to spend my life with Jesus who blesses me every single day. The Jesus I was sure had abandoned me became the Jesus who rescued me, again, and again, and again; has loved me more deeply, intimately, passionately, genuinely than can I give words to; has walked with me every step of the journey, even if I can't always see it. Everything I feared returning to has become a thing I am hesitant to leave.

I felt sure I was incapable of loving people. I was determined to bless them, though, because it delights me. Who knew that I would discover and learn draw from a well so deep inside of me I never knew it existed.

I have been surprised by love.

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