Thursday, October 20, 2011

"I didn't sign up for this..."

 When Beve and I put on those fancy, one-day-only, duds, stood up in front of God and everyone, and spoke vows to each other, and heard our dear Young Life leader-pastor say, "I now pronounce you man and wife," in his slow Texan drawl, we thought we knew what we were getting ourselves into.  After all, we'd known each other since we were in the 4th grade, were more than passing acquaintances with each others' parents and siblings, and 'got' the truth that a person doesn't marry in isolation but marries into a family.  Yep, when we put our names on that marriage license, we were pretty sure we had it all figured out.

But we were wrong.  Dead wrong.  We'd only seen  the courting selves of each other, and the easy selves of being friends and the company face of those families. We hadn't learned about the community of marriage, and the community of the extended family that marriage brings.

When we married, however, Beve and I had just returned to the States from six months of living on a Youth With A Mission Base in the Netherlands (with a six week field-trip to India in the middle).  During that time, we had the chance to learn the best and worst of what it means to live in community.  And you know what?  It's --not idyllic.  Oh, sometimes it's wonderful--the fellowship with other believers who are intent on the same purpose and the finding of those with whom one clicks in deep and meaningful ways.  There are always opportunities for conversations about the Kingdom, always times of Ephesians 3:15ff prayer (as I always think of them--read that passage, it'll blow your socks off!).  But--BUT-- not every believer is easy to like, easy to get along with, just plain easy.  Living in community is hard.  There were moments when, living with the five other women I lived with in the small room where I lived felt claustrophobic, when I felt like screaming, "This is not what I signed up for!"  I was used to having time with the Lord late at night (being the owl that I am) and my roommates were not happy to have even the smallest flashlight on after ten PM.  I was used to washing my oily, limp hair daily and we were allowed baths (not showers!) only once a week in the main house of which our small room was an annex, and the only sink in our room had only cold water so I had to wash my hair in cold water each morning--before my roommates got up! The space was small, and one of the women in particular was so temperamentally different from me I struggled with her on an hourly basis.

The large community and this small segment within the larger one, in God's perfect plan, was the last place I lived prior to my becoming part of Beve's family.  I learned by living in community how to live in very close--'for as long as you both shall live'--community with another person, and how to be community and family to his larger family which is very unlike like my own.

There are times in a marriage when one wants to say, "I didn't sign up for this."  Times when I wish it was a little less hard, when it wasn't so much work for so little reward.  Times (like right now, to be honest) when I wish someone had told me that it would come to this, that there would be so much 'out-go', if you know what I mean.  When we'd have to give and give and give. Because it's hard.  It's just plain hard at times, to live in community even when that community isn't in one's own space.

In the kind of symmetry for which God is famous (and which He has worked most of our lives, if we've eyes to see), we've come to the Beatitude that speaks to this exact attitude.

"Blessed are the merciful..."
In the gospels, the merciful are those who come to the aid of the needy, who are sensitive and understanding (as in standing under to hold up) and supportive (the way a foundation supports a building) of those around them. Mercy means forgiving one who has wronged you but ALSO showing kindness to those in need.  In the Old Testament, only God is merciful, but because Christians have experienced God's mercy--His complete pardon for our sins--we can extend mercy toward others whether they ask for it or not.  This Beatitude speaks to the fundamental calling command of the gospel, to love your neighbor.  No, not just love your neighbor, but to LOVE your enemies.

Here's the thing, other places, Jesus simply commands us to do this: to love our neighbor, to love our enemies, to love our brothers and sisters.  That's it.  And that should be enough. That He asks us to do something should compell us.  "The love of Christ compels us," 2 Corinthians 5:14 says.  His love for us compels us to love others, His love for us compels us to obey Him.  Often we want the reward. "What do we get out of it?" the world asks.  And believers ask the same question.  All the time.  What will He do for us if we do for Him.  And what I always think is that what He's already done is enough to compel us to obey, honor and worship Him FOREVER.  He poured His infiniteness into the puny shell of a human being all for the sake of dying to save us from the sins that were killing us.  He did that. What other blessing is there?

But here, He wraps this command into the form of a blessed, and gives us a promise with it.  It's a pretty powerful motivator, if you need it (and I'm just saying, we shouldn't, though I'm as guilty as the next person of needing it at times).  "Blessed are the merciful..."

This beatitude doesn't say that you're blessed when you show mercy to one who asks, but that you're blessed when you show mercy. Period. There's a fundamental difference there.  It's on you. And me.  We are blessed--and He is with us!--when we show mercy, extend forgiveness, show kindness, love our enemies. The end. No matter how easy the person is to forgive or love. No matter how they respond, or even if they spit in our faces.

The promise/blessing is "...For they will be shown mercy." This is the ONLY Beatitude where you get back exactly what you give.  Mercy leads to mercy.  It's a circle. He promises this. One way or another, mercy will be shown to you. Perhaps not from that person, but at least--obviously!--from Him. But also from others in the Kingdom.  I am certain of this. This is how God works.  We extend mercy on His behalf and He sees to it that mercy is extended to us when we need it.  We are His and He cares for His own.

We are commanded to this Beattitude.  It's an imperative.  Show mercy.  I must learn this today.  This very day, in the community of my larger family, the family I absolutely signed up for all those years ago, when I was young and naive. Long before I pledged my life to Beve, I pledged it first to God, and He calls me to show mercy--not matter how they respond.

"Blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy."

1 comment:

Sharon said...

Thank you for this post...a reminder I needed today.