What keeps us going

February 24th, 2021

Sometimes it may seem like we’re fighting a losing battle. I know I feel that way from time to time.

Maybe you’ve been climbing steadily out of debt or saving for a down payment or finally gotten to where you can make ends meet each week, and then the car breaks down, your employer lays you off, or unexpected medical bills wipe you out.

Maybe your sibling or your child, or your spouse has been doing great in recovery. Perhaps it’s you. Either way, you’ve dared to get your hopes up. And then they relapse, or you relapse. Again.

Maybe you’ve put your heart and soul into fighting poverty and racism and violence. And then the news tells you that today looks pretty much like yesterday. Over and over again.

Maybe those old hurts just don’t seem to be healing no matter how much you pray, that relationship keeps unraveling despite your best efforts, or your daily routines have begun to feel like a pointless, thankless grind.

It can be hard to keep going when the odds just don’t seem to be in our favor.

Hope is what we Christians call the felt sense that the fight is worth it despite all these setbacks and adversities. And I experience that hope when I remember why I have engaged in this fight in the first place. I’m in the battle, and I stay with it because of love.

I talk about love a lot. Maybe only Presiding Bishop Michael Curry—you know, the Royal Wedding preacher—talks about love more than I do. And I spend all that time and energy talking about love because, like him, I think that love is the only power that can save this world. And everybody and everything in it.

The love that I’m talking about is far more than sentimental affection. It’s a world- and soul-transforming power. Love, you see, is God being God in our midst and in our hearts. That love brought all things into being. And that love is healing and restoring our aching world.

God is love. And God chooses to live out the divine life through the likes of you and me. And we are our most authentic selves when we embody that love in our ordinary, daily lives. Not necessarily in grand, world-historical gestures. But in simple acts of respect and decency. Kindness and generosity. Tenderness and compassion.

Jesus explained it this way. The greatest law is the law of love. Love God with every fiber of your being. And the way you do that is to love whoever God put on this planet with you as if your own well-being depended upon it. Because, well, it does.

As we go out into this world to do whatever we do—mow lawns, teach students, argue court cases, make sandwiches in a deli—we will have a sense that it’s worth doing when we remember that it’s all about love.

Before Jesus began his public ministry, he spent forty days wandering in the desert. Matthew and Luke outline three separate temptations he faced. But Mark is sparer. He simply says that Satan tempted Jesus and that the angels waited on him. (Mark 1:9-15)

Mark’s brief treatment invites me to ask, “Why did Jesus spend that time in the wilderness?” I sense that he was getting clear about why he was doing what he was about to do. He would face setbacks and adversity: sorrow, betrayal, and even failure in the world’s eyes.

Jesus understood that his ministry was all about love: the love that mends the world. The teaching, healing, dining with outcasts, confronting the powerful and the elite — even dying on a cross — was about restoring the world with love.

And he taught us that to follow him means to bear that same love into our beautiful, shattered, breathtaking, horrifying world. Take up your cross and follow me, he said.

Feed the hungry, visit the prisoner, shelter the homeless. Welcome the stranger, give the shirt off your back, and turn the other cheek. Love your neighbor as yourself. This is how God is mending the world.

Sometimes, it looks as if we’re not making a difference. Despite all the good work we do this day, tomorrow, there will still be people with empty bellies, in detention, and facing eviction.

And it’s in those moments that I remind myself why we do what we do. We don’t just do it for love. We do it with love, with the divine love that flows into us and out from us into the world. Participating in that love gives us hope. It keeps us going.\

This essay originally appeared at Looking for God in Messy Places. Reprinted with permission.

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