As mentioned before I've also been reading a lot. The last book I finished clocked in at about 827 pages if I recall correctly. Sadly, it wasn't so much worth the reading. Rather funny to note, part of the reason I pressed on was because it was a massive book and Karina had carted it all the way across the globe so I figured there must be some value in it. When I returned the book to her this weekend, however, I learned that she hadn't even read it yet herself.
Well, at least the book I'm reading now has proved to get me thinking already. I've taken on the rather daunting task of reading The Brother's Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. To finish it will be no small feat at 718 pages with very small print, but I'll do my best to make it through as I ponder the insights I find therein as well.
There have been some challenges for me this past year. This being a public forum I won't go into great detail, but I'll be honest. I have struggled. I want to be a loving person. I want to be the kind of person that, upon spending time with me, people feel as though their life has been bettered in some way. Not because I myself make them better, but because they experience the love of God through me. I know that I, of myself, am far from being a loving and considerate person. It is work for me. While there are ever so many people that I love dearly, there are equally as many, and no doubt exponentially more, that drive me batty. They get under my skin for one reason or another and being kind to them, let alone loving, is not my first thought. But this is not what I want from my life, and not what God wants from me either.
Let us look now at some wise words written by Dostoyevsky:
"That's the chief question-my most agonizing question. I shut my eyes and ask myself, 'would you persevere long on that path? And if the patient whose wounds you are washing did not meet you with gratitude, but worried you with his whims, without valuing or remarking your charitable services, began abusing you and rudely commanding you, and complaining to the superior authorities of you (which often happens when people are in great suffering)-what then? Would you persevere in you love, or not?' And do you know, I came with horror to the conclusion that, if anything could dissipate my love to humanity, it would be ingratitude. In short, I am a hired servant, I expect my payment at once-that is, praise, and the repayment of love with love. Otherwise I am incapable of loving anyone."
I've read this passage several times now, and every time I am struck by how much I can see of myself in this. It is so easy to love people in theory. So easy to care about their souls. But when they don't care a whit about me? Well, it's suddenly not so easy. It's not even so much about expecting them to do the same things that I do. I don't expect that. But what I've grown to see so clearly this year is that I do respect a certain element of respect. I expect people to follow the golden rule. If I treat them kindly and with respect, I want to be treated the same way. And when I'm not...where is the love?
I think in some ways it is a lot easier to accept this sort of treatment from people who do not believe in God. I've long seen the beauty in the adage that we must "love the sinner, hate the sin." I think as a Christian it is important to realize that I cannot hold non-Christians to the same standards that I seek to live my life by. They don't follow the same moral code. The things that are not acceptable to me, might be completely acceptable to them, and therefore, I have no place to tell them where they are doing the wrong thing.
I'm not talking about absolutes, like saying, "well, you don't know any better so it's really okay for you to go out and shoot your neighbor because you want to steal his car." I'm talking about the moral codes that I chose to live by because of my faith. And because I have spent a long time contemplating this sort of issue, it isn't so difficult for me to accept when people who are not Christians don't agree with my beliefs, or when they see the world differently.
However, it's a lot easier to become judgmental of others who I feel should be on the same page. We are called to unity in Christ. We are called to accept one another, to love one another, to pray with and for one another. One of the greatest blessings in my life is that I have been able to live in three countries, in cities of all different shapes and sizes, and to experience humanity in general and Christians in particular in all three locales. The churches I have attended have varied greatly, but in each and every one that I have been in, I have found people who love Jesus with all their hearts, souls, minds and strength. They worship in different ways, they praise in different ways, they even serve others in different ways, but I have seen Jesus in them, I have felt accepted by them, and I have grown in my faith through contact with them. I might not always agree with them on every point of debate over the word of God, but I can love and accept them because I have seen their hearts.
Why then do I find myself coming in judgment of others when the thing they don't seem to agree about is me as a person? Is my love so shallow that a mere act of ingratitude is enough to shake it entirely, to cause me to withdraw it. In truth, just as the woman said of those suffering patients, people who are in pain, or have issues of one kind or another, often lash out at those who are trying to help them, or fail to see the value in what is being offered them because of their own misfortunes.
I know that I am weak and frail, that I do not love the way I ought or serve as much as I could. I know that I fall and fall and sometimes before I can even get back on my feet from one disaster I'm back on my face again. It's like the year after I got a concussion in a Hong Kong hospital. I couldn't seem to keep my balance. Over and over and over I found myself on the ground when normal people were perfectly capable of remaining vertical. But in those cases I did my best to brush it off and jump back up, sometimes before the people around me had fully become aware of the fact that I was down on the ground for the hundredth time. If only I could learn to be more resilient when it comes to hurt feelings. If only I could manage to grasp the truth that I am not the one sent to judge the world, but to love it. "For how can I love God whom I have not seen if I can't love my brother who I have seen?" (my own paraphrase of I John 4:19 I think) No matter how many times I have read those words I find that I still slip back into my old ways, longing to do to others as they HAVE done to me, rather than as I wish they would do.
I must confess, it's been a really long time since I've written a paper. Obviously this is not a paper, but it feels a bit like some sort of discourse and as though there should be some nice little conclusion to wrap things up. Something to pull it all together and make it, if not more pleasant, at least somehow resolved. But this isn't the sort of thing I really know how to resolve. It's something I'm still trying to hash out for myself. So rather than tying it off with a sweet little bow of repentance and forgiveness, I leave it as it is, something I need to keep working out with fear and trembling and will hopefully learn to do better with as God gives me chance and circumstance in the days to come.