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We Are Not Called to Just Love Others as We Love Ourselves or to Do Unto Others as We Would Have Them Do Unto Us.

An area I disagree with many Christians about is that Jesus’ ultimate call to love is summed up in, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” and “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.” I think these are fundamentally limited ways to love. I have found from experience that, one: I often don’t love myself, and two: how I am able to accept and experience being loved is quite different from a lot of other people. I think at a later time in his journey, Jesus caught on to that too. Then he said to love others as He loved us. That greater love had no one than that they lay down their life for another. He laid down his desires, his gifts and ministries, his power, his limited vision of his purpose, his followers, even ultimately His awareness of God’s presence, as he hung on the cross. He gave up his self- hood. That’s a call most of us avoid hearing. Dying to self involves letting go of pretty much all of our preconceived ideas and natural inclinations in order to get outside of our own self and become able to hear/see/ respond lovingly and appropriately to those different from us. This dying to self is very very hard to do. It was so hard for Jesus that he literally bled in his anguish and then experienced deep despair in his feeling of abandonment by God.
Today, I think we get so nervous about something sounding like we are saying Jesus isn’t God, that we miss what we can learn from his life about our own journey. His life, God or not, was human. He didn’t spring forth fully grown, fully mature, completely understanding his mission, or knowing his future. He came as a baby, vulnerable, innocent, and ignorant. There are some obvious learning events in His life story, and there are also more subtle ones we often miss. Watch him as a twelve year old learn to wait on God’s timing and to consider his parents’ feelings and guidance. Watch him get pushed out of his comfort zone by his mother’s caring about a young couple’s embarrassment on their wedding day, watch him escape from his angry neighbors in Nazareth, but three years later, fully knowing the outcome setting his face toward a hostile Jerusalem, watch as he let’s a gentile woman convince him of his call to minister outside his own religious group as he recognizes the faith of even unbelievers, watch him weep as he recognizes that his own people will not accept his love and salvation, watch him test his power on a fig tree, but then recognize his own servanthood as he washes his disciples feet, watch him struggle in the garden with his realization that he must die young, watch him accept the agony of feeling abandoned by God on the cross, and yet still move to “Thy will be done.” Consider the difference in the difficulty of the moral code of the ten “Do Nots” and the spirituality of the “Beatitudes.” There’s way more to loving than most of us want to know.

Compassion or No One’s Playing with a Full Deck

From when I was quite young, I stayed stressed night and day over the possibility of being scolded for anything. Unfortunately, even if a fellow student was scolded, I also hurt for them, literally. My stomach would ache.  As an adult when a friend was going through a painful divorce, it seemed almost like I was going through it myself. In many ways this made me compassionate and I tried always to relieve others’ suffering in any way I could.

But, my life became controlled by an underlying need to relieve suffering of any kind, my own, my friends’, the world’s. This sounds like a good thing, and at times it undoubtedly was. But suffering is an inevitable part of life, everyone’s life. And a lot of suffering is self inflicted and perpetuated by attempts to escape it, rather than experience it and learn and grow from it.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Compassion and fear of our own suffering may be two sides of the same coin.

Over the years I learned that I could not protect my children from suffering. And after a couple of friends, that I tried to give emotional support, ended up committing suicide, I gradually accepted that I am not God and cannot control life for anyone.

Eventually, I also recognized that some people become addicted to being victims and are bottomless pits of needs and wants that no one but God can fill.  I can be kind. I can share insights I’ve gained through my own struggles. I can bring a little laughter into the lives around me. But ultimately, each person’s journey is uniquely tailored to the process of making them into the people God created them to be…no more and no less. We can all only play the hand we were dealt and no one other than God can judge how well we are doing that.
Each person is born with their own set of genetic strengths and virtues. The thing we often overlook is that each strength has a corresponding area of weakness. Our pattern of growth will build on the strengths, but also will involve facing our weaknesses and allowing for them. We can develop survival skills in those areas, but they will never be our gifts.
That means we need one another. That means at times we must set aside our strengths and avail ourselves of the opposite set of gifts of other people. This is a dying to self of sorts. It involves suffering and humility. Not an easy task, but definitely part of becoming a couple, a family, a friend, a community, a nation, a world.

In other words, none of us is playing with a full deck! And we can help one another in partnerships, but not in dependency relationships that keep us from growing.

Compassion calls for not only kindness, but the capacity to accept suffering as part of our own lives and of life in general for everyone.
It comes down to the age old prayer: God help me to change what I can, accept what I can’t change and the wisdom to know the difference.