Wednesday, March 7, 2012

JOY The Greatest Commandment, Part 2

   



So...where was I?

Oh, that's right.   I was telling you how I learned that 

The Greatest Commandment is JOY.



Here are the highlights from Part 1, in case you missed it:

1.  I had a recipe for JOY... but no joy  (at least not a sustaining joy).


2.  I offered to "give up ME" for Lent. 

    3.  God required crazy, radical, reckless abandon from me in return. 

That's pretty much the outline.  Let' see  if I can connect the dots...

After the lack of lightning bolts and thunder claps, I did what I always do when I pray--went about my business doing chores.  Sure, I still thought and wondered a lot about the "recipe" for JOY I'd been given, but there was also work to be done!  Plus, God can talk to me just as easily if I'm folding laundry as he can when I'm kneeling--as long as I keep my ears and eyes open.

Unfortunately, I can't remember now what exactly it was that prompted me to look at the Greatest Commandment.  Perhaps I was remembering a connection between it and the recipe for JOY that I'd learned in Dummies.  Or perhaps the very thinking about the recipe was echoing The Greatest Commandment for me. 

After all, I think you can see a connection in the recipe:

If you love Jesus first,  Others second, and Yourself third,

you will have JOY in your life!


I was pretty sure I knew the Greatest Commandment by heart, but just in case I was missing something, I decided to dig around in my bible and find it. (Actually, I think I looked it up in an online bible because I'm lazy like that, but humor me, will you?) 

I found it in Matthew and this is what it said:  

[Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself."   
Mt 22:37-39


I don't know.  I was a little disappointed. It still seemed like the Dummies version was the same as Matthew's, except that Matthew wasn't promising joy, so maybe the Dummies had that part wrong.

Of course, I should clarify here that it's understood by me (and most Christians, I think) that loving Jesus is as good as loving God, since Jesus is simply one of three persons in whom the Christian Triune God is manifested.  So I was fine with that variation in wording.  (Plus, if  you use God instead of Jesus for the recipe, you end up with GOY which isn't nearly as cute.)



 


Also, I'd been taught enough to know that my "neighbor" really meant "everyone" -- all the "others" on this planet besides me, so that still seemed right, too. (Again, if you use God instead of Jesus and Neighbor instead of Others you're really slaughtering the whole recipe for JOY, so you kind of have to play along.  I mean who would want a recipe for GNY?).


That being said, the only other real difference I could see between The Greatest Commandment and the Dummies' recipe for JOY was the Dummies' insistance that I should love the other two first.  But still, putting others before ourselves isn't unbiblical as far as I knew so...hmmm. 

I tried again.  A different Gospel this time.

[Jesus replied]   "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’  The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 
Mk 12:30-31



Ugh.  Aside from requiring me to use my strength to love God, too, I didn't really see anything different in Mark's version.  

*DEEP SIGH*

Something was urging me to look closer.  I went back to Matthew.  Closed my eyes, took a deep breath and opened them. 

And I about fell over.

I'd always seen The Greatest Commandment as two commandments.  In fact, Jesus even says there are only two.  It seems pretty clear.  1) Love God above all things.  2) Love others as you love yourself.   

But this third time when I read it, all but six words fell away from the page,  and I was seeing something that explained a lot.  In fact, it was as obvious as the nose on my face, but I'd never seen it that way before. 

Do you wanna know what it was?

 It was this:


[Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it:  You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 
Mt 22:37-39



Well, I never.


Now, if this isn't a news flash for you, and you've always understood The Greatest Commandment as a command to love yourself --and you've always been able to do it--then I have only three things to say to you:

1)  You are a Wise Soul.

2)  Why didn't you ever tell ME?

3)  I apologize for wasting your time.


As for the rest of you,  (if there are any of you left) before you go off feeling sorry for me and my lack of love for myself, let me tell you a little bit about me. 

First of all, before I had this revelation I did love myself.  Or at least I was pretty sure I did.  Every time I'd read that commandment before I'd read, "love your neighbor AS yourself."  This to me was saying, "Love others as much as you love YOU."  And it seemed to me that I loved myself an awful lot. After all,  I knew my gifts (even if I didn't always use them).  I also knew that part of loving myself was knowing what things aren't my gifts, and I was fine with that, too. 

But these words were coming at me in a new way.   I was seeing God taking that love for myself to a level far deeper than anything I considered possible.   Here I was staring at a command from God, delivered by the Son of God telling me (and now you, too) to:


Love yourself.


It doesn't say love your perfect self.

It doesn't say love yourself as soon as you (______fill in the blank________).
a.  eat right, exercise and lose weight.
b.  win Mother/Father of the Year. 
c.  win Wife/Husband of the Year.
d.  confess all your sins.

It doesn't say love yourself only after you're done (literally) loving God and everybody.
Turns out I was so busy focusing on the order of things, that I didn't see the fullness of the commandment. 

But it is clearer to me now.

God is asking me to look at my not so lovable parts.

Look at them, accept them, and love myself with them (not in spite of them), too.

In other words, I am to love myself the way GOD loves me.  

And that's when I realized where I'd gone wrong with the recipe!  I was loving Jesus (which is good).  I was loving Others (which is also good).  But when it came to myself...I was only loving the good parts.! The parts I thought God would want to see.  The parts I'd be too embarrassed to show you, (or me).



Yep.  I was all too *happy* to let those "darker" parts hide in the shadows where God (and I) wouldn't have to look at them except maybe once every Lent or so when I was feeling up to it.

So do you see why I couldn't find the fullness of JOY? 

I only had JO. 

Now, I know what some of you may be thinking.  There's a saying that states, "Hate the sin.  Love the sinner." That's all fine and good.  And that may be what you think I'm saying right now.   But it's not.

What I'm telling you here is that I'm understanding this commandment to be saying even more.  Granted, I'm no theologian or spiritual advisor, so feel free to check with either or both of those before you take my word for it.   But as a Child of God, I'm telling you what I *know.*  And  what I *know* is that God doesn't hate our sins.  What he hates is the fact that we don't "give them up" to Him! 

Instead:

We hang on to them. 
We hide them.
We ignore them.
We wish them away.

But we don't accept them. 

And we certainly don't "give them up." 

In doing this, we miss the Mystery of God's love working in our lives, and we do not allow our sinful selves to be transformed.  Even worse, in hanging on to our sins (or hiding them, etc.) we continue to transmit them to others.  
Any guesses who is happiest then?

The only "fix" then, is to accept ourselves in our fallen, broken, sinful human state and dare to love our very weaknesses--our sinful side-- as well as our strengths. 
Understanding this changes things, doesn't it?
If it seems to you like I overstated it, I apologize, but...

it feels pretty crazy, radical and reckless to me.


What's more, realizing this about ourselves makes the fullness of The Greatest Commandment more powerful, too.  As I said earlier, I always saw it as two things:  1) Love God and 2) Love Others AS you would yourself.  But, like so many things Jesus said, there's a catch!  If you don't love yourself fully--even the deepest darkest parts-- then it's more difficult to love others that way, too.   And you're not allowing God to be God and love you the way only He can:  with total abandon.

So the kicker for me on this "step" of my spiritual journey is the paradox of loving God.   The Great Mystery of His love to me now is that instead of wondering and worrying about what He will think about "the dark side" of myself, or what Others will think, I am free to bring my sins out into His light and examine them.  When I do this, then, it's not so much about crawling my way back to God, and dressing myself in sackcloth and ashes.  Instead, it simply puts me in the position of a child gazing at an old favorite toy with an understanding that perhaps I've outgrown it.  I now see the toy I used to love playing with as something that suddenly doesn't bring me as much pleasure as it once did.  And instead of struggling with big words like CONFESSION and RECONCILIATION and CONTRITION and PENANCE,  I'm now free to amble up to God as his child, hold up my sin and say,




"Daddy, could you fix this, please?  I think it's broken."



And you know what?

He will.

And the even crazier thing is he'll give it back!  Only now it will be transformed. 

Don't believe me? 

Let's review: 

1.  I offered up my very SELF to God for Lent, in an effort to find JOY.

2.  In return, God gave me the most complete version of something I didn't even know I was missing...ME!

3.  He made the gift of loving mYself the missing ingredient to a recipe I already had for living a life of  JOY.

That, my friends,  is the radical gift of love only God can give. 

And you know something?  That radical kind of love is worth dying for.

Which is why I'm not in a spiritual desert right now.

I'm too busy living the Resurrection.



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