As far back as I can recall – at least as soon as we were required to do book reports in school – I discovered there was one thing I could do to minimize my effort and maximize my grade. I most clearly recall using this technique when I had a book report due on one of the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. [Fair warning: If you’re a teacher, this may make you cringe.]
I don’t remember if it was because I hadn’t allowed myself the time to read or if I’d preferred to not read, but I had a book report due and little time left in which to do it. I think it was my mother who suggested it first. I read the summary on the back of the book, chewed it up a bit, and regurgitated it in a form that my teacher actually liked well enough to give me an A.
I became so skilled at synthesizing information, that I did it all the way through college. Although, in college, I probably spent more time researching commentaries, reviews and critiques on the assigned reading than I would have if I’d actually read it.
This might not seem like a particularly egregious habit – unless I confess that I was an English major who aspired to teach children the wonders of literature. (I know.) To be fair, if a degree had been available in researching literature, I’d have gotten a doctorate in it and been a very happy camper!
I did know better! When I actually read the material, I fell in love with the words, the subtle nuances and rhythm of a sentence, the symbolism, the art with which a character was unfolded. It could be beautiful…but it was time consuming.
I’ve done the same thing with the word of God. I didn’t see a problem with it, though. After all, isn’t that what church is all about – listening to a preacher tell you about God, sharing the big stories in the Bible. Noah’s Ark, Jonah and the big fish, David and Goliath – they’re lessons that teach you that God is big and in charge, and you should be obedient to him and kind to others.
I had no idea what I was missing.
Fun fact about LaRonda: When I was younger, I fantasized about reckless passion. I imagined reading a beautiful love letter in which someone described how very much they loved me, that they yearned to be with me every chance they had, that they would die for me, built a home for me and, (this was added as I got older and learned about expenses) once they’d finished the construction and paid the mortgage off, would come back to get me so I could live there with him forever. What a romantic fantasy!
However, instead of actually reading the letter, I left it in the envelope on a table where I could see it, taking comfort in the fact that I knew it was a love letter. When friends came to visit and would invariably ask about the envelope, I’d say, “That? Oh, that’s my love letter. Yes…. Isn’t it wonderful?” Naturally, I’d say it in a soft, whimsical way, trailing off to insinuate an intimate mystery that only I and the one who loved me could understand.
But this isn’t simply the fantasy of a silly girl. This is the Gospel. It’s the greatest love letter ever written. It’s about a reckless and passionate relationship that God wants to have with us. I had been content with hearing about God. I had not been hearing from God, and God had a lot to say…to me.
During his ministry, Jesus asked his disciples who they thought he was. He asked them who others said he was. There was a variety of answers, but the one he was longing to hear was that he was Immanuel – God with us. If we knew the Son, we knew the Father. He was the part of the trinity who agreed to a back-up plan for our reconciliation with our Creator before we were created.
Which begs the question of Immanuel, “So who do you say I am?”
I know the answer I hope to hear, but I can have a pretty ugly heart and a fairly judgmental spirit. I also have have a great fear of rejection, so I prepare myself for the worst. I know, though, that if I believe he loves me, then he loves all of his creation and expects me to, as well.
So, I’ve been asking God to help me see people as he sees them, so I can love them the way he loves them because I don’t have a natural inclination toward grace and mercy.
To be fair, though, I don’t like myself all that much either. In fact, from the first time I heard that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, I was convinced of one thing. My neighbors were screwed.
So I was surprised to realize recently that the first person I would see with grace and mercy would be me. As a child of God. I am loved – anyway and always. And I am lovable. There is nothing in this person whom God created that disqualifies me from being cherished and beloved; if by no one else, then by God himself. And that understanding shows me what it feels like to be flawed and loved again and again. And that feeling helps me understand why it’s so vital for me to treat others with the grace and mercy that helps them stop feeling “less than.” And that understanding largely comes from reading the ultimate love letter to the world from the greatest Lover we’ll ever know.
Hmmm…Maybe there’s hope for my neighbors, after all.