I read an interesting article yesterday about how mothers have changed parenting their daughters during the pandemic. They were striving to teach kindness and compassion, rather than competition. Service and selfless sacrifice instead of strife. It doesn’t surprise me. I’ve talked with many moms over the past several months about how our priorities have changed. We’re pulling close rather than stretching thin and focusing on the basics of what really matters now more than perhaps we ever have before. There are many things that have been difficult, yes, but there have also been areas in our lives where unexpected changes have been for the better. For us and for those in relationship with us.
One thing I’ve found myself doing much of these past several months is thinking. Reflecting. Of course there is truth in the idea that too much introspection is unhealthy and can certainly lead to the building up of idols in our lives, but I believe introspection is often how we center ourselves. It is how we grow. How we change.
I spent much of my younger years listening to music. Good songs are much like good books. Short stories drawing us in at the first verse and leading us through someone else’s life. Finding those moments that mirror ours, unfolding as we ebb and flow in living out our own stories. Our own lives. Some of the best lyrics have shaped who I am to this day. Even the ones that are the complete antithesis of what I know to be true about God, creation, life as a whole. They’ve molded me in ways nothing else but Scripture itself has done. Revealing theological truths from the most unlikely sources, but truths all the same.
And the same can be said about reflection. It takes us through where we’ve been. The story of our days and years set before us as we sort out who we are and who God wants us to become. It is at times painful and stretching. At times joyful and full of thanksgiving. But always laced with the knowledge that it is the Lord who is working to make us more like him. And that goodness drives us on.
In reflecting, there are often themes that come around over and over again. And as I’ve prayed through the past several months I’ve come to understand the central tenet the Lord is teaching me through all of the difficulties I may face day to day. It is to love others. It is something so basic. Something so foundational. Something so often mentioned in God’s word. And yet, so often, it is the most difficult thing to do. So I’ve been asking him to show me. Show me how. What does it look like? For me.
I’ve always been one to share my opinions. As a child, I had no trouble telling my mother exactly what I thought, and I’m sure she’d agree that hasn’t changed. As a student, I was quick to answer, albeit not always quick to hear the other side, and as a friend I was quick to encourage, even when that encouragement wasn’t well thought out or delivered. It is an area of my life I’ve had to learn to restrain and to hone for tone and timing. It is the area that I’ve most likely prayed about more than any other and I’m thankful for God’s grace amidst my ever present failings. And it is main the area in which the Lord has been working as I reflect on how to love.
It strikes me that many people are much like me. Struggling with their words or lack thereof. Struggling through relationships with others who think differently, act differently, worship differently, vote differently. Struggling to find their voice or struggling to reign it in. Struggling to understand how they come across on a screen instead of face to face. Wading through saying something imperfectly and being called out for it or saying nothing at all. Wanting to be heard, to be understood, to be allowed to be who they are. The good and the bad. Flaws, sins and all.
In many ways, we’re like dump trucks on the freeway. Riding merrily along while thousands of pebbles are being flung out of our beds, hitting the cars behind us. Oblivious to the annoyances we’re causing in someone else’s life. Missing the looks of those lucky enough to pass us. We’re mostly harmless, except for the paint chips we’re causing on the hoods behind us. But once in awhile, one of our rocks will land just right. Cracking the windshield of the most unsuspecting poor soul that happened to get too close.
At times, we’re particularly poked by a certain someone or situation. We may be having a rough time handling our own emotions and whatever life is throwing our way. In those moments, we can become side dumpers, unloading all of our ire and wounded spirits onto others. It is true that some particularly unhealthy people side dump continuously and boundaries or road blocks are necessary, but I don’t believe that is the case for the majority. Most of us want to love well, but we just don’t always know how.
I know I’ve been like that pesky dump truck in what I’ve said over my life. I imagine you have too. And the Lord is changing me. Helping me to see the pebbles I’ve tossed because I didn’t want to be wrong or was too concerned about being right. Helping me to see the chips I caused. And granting repentance to seek forgiveness when I’ve been the one to crack the heart of someone I didn’t take the time to know. At least not truly know enough to understand.
Loving someone does not mean I agree with them or that we’ll be close. In my life, learning to love another is far more than just accepting who they are. It is loving them enough to know why they are who they are. One of the beautiful things about being solid in what I believe is being able to sift through the beliefs of others to find where we agree. Where we don’t. We may have vastly different opinions that split us apart. We may remain friends because we let the other person be themselves.
I’m learning to be silent when silence is best. I’m learning to speak gently, seasoning what I say. I’m learning to see what I was missing. And build rather than take down. A work that will last my life long. But one that’s dear to my Savior’s heart, so it must be dear to mine.