There is something about waking up at the beach that is just soothing to my soul.
The waves coming one after another, crashing in a rhythmic dance. The hugeness of it all, reminding me that although I am the center of my own world, I am just one grain of sand in God’s immense universe. Anything this big and this majestic had to be orchestrated, and the beauty amongst all of His creation is an additional gift to all of us little grains of sand, so you have to believe that our God is a kind and loving God.
I didn’t always know this was true. When I was growing up, God was always this distant, Old Testament God, full of anger and vengefulness. It explained perfectly why He didn’t answer my prayers. I was a sinner. Something I had done had caused God to turn His back on me. Plus I was me. Why would God even care about me to begin with? A kid with a messed up haircut and clothes that didn’t fit. There were certainly more important people to spend His time with. If I confessed often enough or did enough Hail Marys, or looked more like a person the God would want to be seen with or could scrounge up some change to put in the collection plate, perhaps then His attention would turn toward me and He would make my life better.
I was talking with my friend Michele, last night, after enjoying a fabulous dinner at The Irish Table followed by a brisk walk in some sideways rain on the beach. It got me thinking that I think that the God that I used to believe in was a very humanistic God. A man made God. A God more excited about the church coffers than the salvaging of hurting souls. How fortunate am I to have found a different God than the God of my childhood? A God who is bigger than all of our human issues and our insistence that our way of thinking or believing is the right way. A God who has created and chosen each of us perfectly. A God who can handle all of my doubt, sin, shame and reflect back to me a picture of what He sees, a beloved, treasured child; a perfectly imperfect being.
When I changed my view of God, I also started changing my view of other people. I no longer had to worry about whether they were living in line with the world’s moral standards. I mean, I certainly fall out of line over and over and God still manages to love me. If He can love me, he can love anybody! When I quit worrying about what everybody else was doing and whether it was biblical or not, it freed me up to be able to just love people. Right where they are. Sin and all. Without all of the blame or judgement. If God has a problem with someone’s behavior, God doesn’t need me being The Enforcer. He can handle it, and would probably prefer to handle it, because this shallow, imperfect human would just screw it up. He is a God of forgiveness, and that’s not a strength in my wheel house, so I should let Him work out all of the details of who He’s planning on giving up on. Quit focusing on what I consider other people’s shortcomings. Quit pretending that I have all the answers and that I know what God is up to.
It frees me up for the one of the two things that He wants me to focus on; it frees me up to focus on me. That sounds conceited, but really, most days I would really rather focus on everyone elses screw ups, than on my own. On everyone elses doubts than my own. Certainly not on my own imperfections! Let’s look at yours instead! An internal review, ‘Am I, where I stand right now, in line with God’s will?’ This is a hard question for a control freak to ask, but when I do relinquish my will for His, and I do align my life with His will, it also frees me up for the only other job He wants me to do, and that is to love people.
It seems like such simplicity, His command of ‘As I have loved you, (immensely, undeservedly, enthusiastically) so you should love your neighbor.’ And if it were my old, humanistic Old Testament God speaking, it WOULD be simple! I could love my neighbors that I like, the ones that bring us cookies during the holidays and the ones that let me borrow their lawn chairs and potted flowers when I’m having a party. I wouldn’t have to love the ones that I don’t like. The neighbor that agreed to go in halvesies on a fence- then stiffed us with the whole bill, or the neighbors who let their little kids ride their bikes in the middle of the street. Certainly not the neighbor who lets their dog poop on our lawn and then walks away without cleaning it up, in fact, I could unleash a herd of grasshoppers on them! Yes, bugs come in herds. It’s true and you would know it if you saw the front end of my car after a road trip.
It’s the whole, “As I have loved you,” part that gets tough. I know my repeated screw ups, mistakes, short comings, failures. And God has loved me, immensely, enthusiastically and undeservedly. He pursues me relentlessly. So, what I get from this is not “love who is lovable”, which would be simple, but “love who is unlovable”, which is much more of a challenge to my sense of right and wrong, but actually makes everything so much easier for me because I don’t have to figure out which people to love. God wants me to love everybody.
Now all I have to do is figure out how to love the lady that cut me off with her shopping cart in the grocery store the other day.