Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Greatest Commandment, Part 1

I have a confession.

Here it is only the second week of Lent and what I want to do is help you (whoever you are) understand the purpose and process of "going into the desert" because I know from experience that the spiritual desert can be painful.  And lonely.  And frightening.

But there are those who've written so well on these topics that I certainly couldn't say it better, so I will just post their writings here for you to read in your own time.  Even now, these same two writings sustain me when I am having a desert experience.

They are this article and this one.

If you are "in the desert" right now, it is my hope and prayer that the above readings will help you as much as they do me.

But one thing I've learned recently is that while we're really only just beginning this Lenten (Growing!) Season, and while we are asked to start this Season in the desert like Jesus did, we can't always "be there" just because the church calendar says it.

I learned this because I'm not in the desert.  Not right now.  Not this year.

You see, I was recently reminded that the seasons of the church do not always match the seasons of our lives. After all, if someone you love dies on Easter, it may not feel like much of a Resurrection experience, right?   And there's certainly nothing wrong with that.  So the church calendar, I believe, is meant to keep us mindful of the seasons of our lives, by "acting out" these seasons collectively in the Church throughout the year.   Because while it's true that I'm not in the desert right now, it's also true that I've been in the desert when it wasn't even Lent at all!

So, if you are not spiritually in a desert place right now, that's OK.  

(Our desert time will come again soon enough.  God has His ways....)

But that's not really my confession.

My confession is that part of the reason I've been struggling to write since last week is because I've been trying so hard to write stuff other than what is on my heart because it's stuff I *know*  you need.

The other reason I've been holding back writing about what is on my heart right now is because what I have to share from my heart just seems so...obvious.  In fact,  it's kind of embarrassing I didn't see it sooner.

But I didn't.   Even though it seems as though I should have.

And my heart is telling me that since I never knew it, then maybe there's the off chance that you didn't either. 

Even though I *know* you probably did.

Still, today I've decided to stop fighting and I will just tell you what I've learned: 

The Greatest Commandment is JOY.

See?  You already knew it didn't you!

And I'm the dummy.  Again.  Nothing new there. 

You see, a few years back I took a class called "Catholicism for Dummies"  and I loved it!  I think we all (those of us in the class) did, because when you admit you're a dummy you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.  It's such a freeing feeling!

ANYway,  one of the things we learned in Dummies was this little recipe for JOY:

If you love Jesus first,  Others second, and Yourself third,
you will have JOY in your life!

And it's true enough, I suppose. 

I mean, practicing humility before God and service towards others is, after all, at the very heart of what Christianity is all about.

With that recipe in my head,  I worked pretty  hard on loving Jesus by inviting Him into my heart and spending lots of time with His Word in prayer.  And I spent lots of time praying for and offering service to others when I could.  Don't get me wrong, there were still plenty of people doing more for others than me, and loving Jesus more than I did.  But I couldn't help but notice that many of them didn't seem to be living a life of great JOY, either.  At least no more or less than I was.

So I began to wonder if there was something I was missing. 

I didn't know what it was exactly.  What's more, I had no idea how to find it.  After all,  how do you find something when you don't even know what you're looking for?  I mean, I was searching for JOY and I thought I was going about it the right way...after all, I had the very recipe for it!

But I still wasn't living in JOY. 

It's important you hear me on this.  I was happy, plenty of the time.  It's hard to have a good marriage, healthy kids and a comfortable lifestyle and not be happy.  I mean, I wasn't exactly an ingrate.  I thanked God often for those gifts and more.  Sure, I'd grumble about the things I didn't have, but wanted and I'd long for more of what I did have sometimes.   But even so, overall, I'd say my happiness factor was just fine. 

But I believed that JOY was something more. 

To me, JOY was what I experienced in those rare moments in life when you see what you can only believe is a glimpse of heaven.  Like when you hold your newborn baby in your arms. 

The kind of JOY that makes the work and worry melt away.

The kind of JOY you can only sit and inhale. 

The kind of JOY that brings peace .

The kind of JOY that makes every. single. breath. special.

That's the kind of JOY I was looking for.   

(I mean really, is that so much to ask??  We ARE talking GOD here!!)

What's more, I was convinced that unlike the spiritual desert, JOY is not  merely a season of our lives, but a way of living.  Adding fuel to my fire, was the fact that it seemed like there were some people who knew the secret. 

Do you know the kind of  people I mean?    They don't worry, they don't speak ill of others.  They look for the good in everything and they always make you feel as though all of their time with you is about YOU.  They espouse Wisdom like only elders can, but they may not even be that much --if at all--older than you!   They are the Mother Teresas, or Pope John Paul IIs or Gandhis of our everyday life, but they manifest themselves in the person of  your grandma or your 2nd grade Sunday School teacher or your child's pediatric nurse.  They never seem flustered.  Or rushed. Or worried.   And every time you see them you get that warm fuzzy feeling  because you know they are going to look into your eyes, drink you into their warm JOYful world and make you feel good.

I mean they are SO easy to love.  Aren't they?   I LOVE people like that! 

But they also drive me nuts.

You know why?  Because more than any of the other wants I have, I want THAT.  Whatever it is.  Some may call it living in the moment.  Some may call it a Spirit of Charity.  Whatever you want to call it,  I'm pretty sure-- in fact I *know*-- it's what a life of JOY is!

But *knowing* what it is and finding it for yourself are not the same thing, it seemed to me.   My search was beginning to seem fruitless.  In fact,  I'd pretty much decided either my expectations were too high, or this was just something I wasn't meant to know.  I'd pretty much surrendered to the fact that in my lifetime, I may never be able to live JOY.  I may only be able to get a taste of it from time to time.  The rest of the time I'd still be pretty happy.  And maybe that is as good as it's going to get for me.

But I wanted to give it another shot.

So, this Lent, I began a journey of trying --yet again--to get to the heart of how to find, and live JOYfully, not just happily.  I asked God what I needed to "give up" in order to find JOY.  And I said I would do whatever it took. 

Did I need to give up my own plans for the future?  Or my dog?  My job (or lack there of, depending on your perspective)?  Or  was it my *gulp* (please God don't let it be, but still I have to ask) kids or husband?  

I really didn't know.  But I knew I couldn't get there on my own.  So in a moment of complete desperation, I offered to "give up" the biggest obstacle I could see in my way:  

I told God I wanted to "give up" ME for Lent.

Then I held my breath and waited.

No lightning bolts. 

(*Whew*  I took this as a good sign  because I had no idea what "giving  ME up"  would really look like, but as soon as I prayed it, I'll admit I wondered if the Good Lord wouldn't strike me down in that very moment!).

But  He didn't.   

What He did do, however, was work lightning fast getting me an answer.  Thankfully, I was ready to hear and see what it is He had to say.  So, almost as soon as I made that decision to "give ME up" for Lent.  I got a glimpse of what that would entail.

And I could hardly believe the crazy, radical, reckless abandon it would require of me.

***to be continued***

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