Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Muscle memory

I've been reading the Gospel of John lately, and last night came across this verse, "Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends."  (John 15:13)  Every time I read this verse, I'm reminded of my old friend, SW, the boy across the street.  At some point in high school, we must have had a conversation about this quality of love, because in my New American Standard Bible, his initials are written beneath the verse.  I just pulled down my taped up (both masking tape and packing tape), navy blue bonded leather NASB to make sure.  I got this Bible the Christmas of my sophomore year in high school, and for many years, it was the Bible I used.  Sure, I had plenty of other translations. For some reason, I liked collecting Bibles, and my mother was glad to oblige by buying me a new translation for every event.  Amplified, Phillips, Good News, RSV, parallel versions with 2, or 4, translations, the Living, study Bibles, New Testaments, you name 'em, I had 'em.  But despite all those books sitting on my shelf, this old sturdy blue workhorse, lightlighted, annotated, covered with my childish scrawl was the one I used.  And there on the page (169 of the New Testament), right beneath the top line on the page are the initials SW.  I don't have a single memory of the conversation that spurred me to write his name, but clearly it was important enough to me to note.

(A couple of days after I received the NASB Bible for Christmas, my neighbor, SW, and I walked home from a Bible study together.  He carried my brand new Bible beneath his coat, but just as we turned the last corner onto our street, it slipped out of his grasp and into the snow.  He was very apologetic, and I was very gracious (well-trained), but the wet snow rippled some pages, and they bear the scars to this day.  Wow, right at John 15, as a matter of fact. How's that for coincidence?)

Anyway, these words, about this highest form of love, really represented SW in those days.  His single-hearted earnestness, his hunger for God, and his willingness to serve whoever crossed his path.  When I read the words, I think of that lanky, wavy-haired teenager.  The one who played basketball like he was put together with rubberbands, but still managed to be better than anyone else around.  I read these words last night, and thought of that boy, even though the man he's become was leg-twitching and deep-breathing right beside me in the bed. 

It's an odd thing to have known him so long, in such different guises.  That boy, SW?  I wouldn't have dreamed in a million years that he'd be the man who would father my children. I'd have shuddered if anyone had suggested it (come to think of it, when my mom suggested I date him, I said, "why don't you?" which might have been a bit mouthy, not to mention tricky, considering she was happily married to my dad). But who he was in high school, is really who he is.  A man who would lay down his life for his friends. At least, that's who I think he is.

This isn't an easy thing to consider, this life-laying-down love Jesus encourages us toward.  I have to admit, I hope I'm never put to the test.  Many years ago now, when a student took a gun into a classroom in Moses Lake, Washington, the assistant principal ran toward the shots, wrestled the gun out of his hands, saved untold lives, though there were some casualities.  Beve heard the name of the principal, and was surprised to discover that he knew the man, who'd been Beve's middle school gym teacher.  Beve called him up, and they talked through those scary moments. Like it had muscle memory, his body had moved almost like he'd trained it for that specific situation.  Afterwards, he was shocked that running toward the gunfire was so instinctive.  This is a man who put into action these words of Jesus'.

I don't know if I have that muscle memory.  Sure, I'd like to think I'd lay my life on the line for my children.  I really think I would.  But I don't know.  There's a pretty deep well of cowardice in me.  But what I know is that God has not given me--us--a spirit of fear, but the Spirit of power, of love and of discipline.  These are the tools of the Spirit in the best or worst of times.  Power, the very power that raised Him for the dead, is ours.  Love, the very love that God demonstrated by our salvation through Christ's death. Discipline, the very discipline that comes from surrendering our puny will to His.  These are the things that give us muscle memory, even if we've never been tested.  The Spirit Himself, enabling us to do more than we imagine we are capable of.  Running toward whatever fire life throws at us.

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