I’ve been thinking of all the dreams I had for this year. More specifically, age twenty-six. What I did not see coming out of these Great 26th Year Expectations, was a year that feels like I’m holding my head underwater for the last seven months. On some level, I can’t say I have felt more present and in tune with myself and God than I do now. But on another level, I’m waiting for the go-ahead to rise at the surface and open my eyes to see a clearing ahead.
Before this all begins to sound too morose, I must confess that there have been so many good days. It is on the good days that my head and my heart feel full of hope and light and real again. I meet reality and know that life is seasonal — good or bad, short or long — and all is still well. These moments of my head, heart, and soul finding equilibrium in the ocean of events have been deeply treasured. What has been harder to face is the bitterness and disappointment that has snuck itself in.
While I am still not fully out of this tide, I can tell of one great lesson that has transformed me in a way that I could not have expected. This lesson? Loving well.
Back in October, I went to hear Scot McKnight talk at Northern Seminary. He had a new book coming out called Kingdom Conspiracy that talks at length about how we view the Church and how we view the Kingdom, and how these two words, with their meanings, should be used interchangeably because they are synonymous. He broke this notion down with ten main points, with the sixth one titled, “When your church is known above all for loving one another and loving your neighbors.” Below that, four elements to this kind of love were listed:
1. A rugged commitment to someone (a “covenant”).
2. To be “with” someone (physical proximity).
3. To be “for” someone (praying for, hoping for).
4. “Unto” Christ-likeness (Kingdom transformation).
Basically, to love someone well is to have a committed “with-ness” and “for-ness” and “unto-ness” will follow naturally.
I started reflecting on this idea of Kingdom Love surrounding friendships. It is not until now that I realize how often I have thrown the term “I love you” around, however well-meaning, without great follow through. It has always been easy for me to say “I love you” to someone, or anyone for that matter, because who doesn’t like to be loved? Nonetheless, if I’m not “with” this person in a way that shows commitment, “for” them by intentionally praying/hoping for them, then how could I be “unto” them in a Christ-like way?
I ask myself this, because I have felt this towards and from my own friendships through this season. Isn’t it funny how, when there is a tangible shift in your world, you look around to see who is still standing with you? I guess that is the best way to describe this. Those who I thought would be there, weren’t, and those I didn’t expect to be there, were. I felt all at once bitter and grateful, which is nothing more than a bag of confusion when you feel emotionally alone.
In order to fight myself from harboring that bitterness — doesn’t this particular feeling like to burrow itself deep? — I chose to be annoyingly, utterly, tearfully grateful for those who did check-in with me. They don’t know this, but the friends who would simply ask “How are you doing?” on a consistent basis, helped keep me afloat.
And this is not all to say some of this does not fall on me. While I have let people in on what is happening, I have also learned the importance of asking for them to follow through by checking-in on me. This request came out of a fear that my vulnerability with a friend would be nothing more than the “scoop” on my life rather than the absolute reality of my world feeling tilted on its side. But I have recognized that I had nothing to fear by asking this in the end.
To love well and to be loved well, there has to be a groundwork of intentionality (rugged commitment, with-ness, for-ness, unto-ness). This, I have learned firsthand.
I’ve been thinking of the word I chose for this year — freedom — and how I’ve yet to see it come into fruition. But how this usually works, is something like finding yourself in the midst of pain and agony of the harvest. My definition of freedom may be about finding a different definition, so I am trying to consider these lessons along the way as small reaps. I am grateful for this lesson in loving well and, ultimately, a shift in Kingdom perspective.