When I was a kid, my grandparents decided to downsize from their lake home to a double-wide trailer in a semi-senior citizen trailer park. The park was nice. Quiet streets, a clubhouse, trees. But best of all, there was a community pool. I loved spending my days in the sun, splashing around in the chlorinated cornflower blue water. Sometimes my grandpa would come down to the pool with us. Never being one to bother with formality, he’d drag a poolside chair into the shallow end of the pool and sit partially covered in water while the grandkids played. But sometimes, it would be my Uncle Charlie’s job to chaperone the kids. My Uncle Charlie was special, in many ways. He loved bottle rockets, his police scanner, family get-togethers, being outside, and cursing. Just the little curse words, though, not the big ones. Due to a severe brain injury as a child, he had special needs, and he lived with and was cared for by my grandparents his entire life.
Uncle Charlie didn’t get into the pool. In fact, I’m pretty sure he couldn’t swim. If there had been an emergency, his response would have been to hop around the pool area letting loose a stream of curse words–little ones, not big. As our designated chaperone, he would pull a chair up to the side of the pool and sit, ever watchful. The second one of us went underwater he was up, leaning over the water and mouthing words we couldn’t understand. We’d emerge, spluttering and giggling, as Uncle Charlie would shake his finger and say, “Don’t do that.” Being the bratty children we were, we’d submerge ourselves again, and again Uncle Charlie would be looking anxiously down from above, waiting for us to resurface so he could tell us not to go underwater. He took his responsibility for our care seriously, even if he wasn’t going to jump in the water after us.
This past year has dampened my spirit a bit. As I look around the world, I see so much sadness. So much hurt. So much despair. It’s hard to write words of encouragement when the world seems to be on fire. God and I have had lots of conversations about this. I feel completely unequipped to share the good news of Jesus Christ in a world that seems to reject all of his teachings on a regular basis. I can’t solve racial inequality. I can’t end poverty. I can’t cure disease. I can’t make people be kind to one another. And do you know what God keeps speaking to me over and over and over again? One word. Love.
Just love one another! I love this passage from The Message. Paul is giving the Thessalonians a reminder. They don’t need Paul to give them any more theology. They already know what to do. It’s what Jesus told his disciples in John 13. It’s the same thing Jesus told the crowds in Matthew 22. We know what we need to do…and Paul reminds us that we’re already good at it! If we have the love of Jesus in our hearts (way down in our hearts…remember the song?) we can’t help but love other people.
I find great comfort in Paul’s words. Sometimes I get stuck in the grand gestures. I think that if I’m not out starting a non-profit organization, devoting every second of my free time to some noble endeavor, or giving every penny I earn to a charitable organization that I’m not doing enough. I often worry that I’m not doing anything, really. Like my Uncle Charlie, I’m standing at the edge of a pool that I have no intention or ability to dive into. But that kind of thinking misses the point. Because here’s the thing…even though my Uncle Charlie wasn’t going to dive into the pool, he was there. His presence was an act of love, and his insistence that we not go underwater was him doing what he could to keep those he loved safe. He was loving us in the best way he could.
That’s how we’re supposed to love others–in the best way we can. We love others when we are present with them. We love others when we take the time to send a quick text or note. We love others when we pray for them. We love others when we treat them with dignity, regardless of their past or present circumstances. We love others when we see them, when we look them in the eye and offer a simple greeting or thank you. We love others when we forgo reposting hate filled messages to social media. We love others when we choose words that uplift instead of words that tear down. We love others when we commit to seeing each person as a child of God, regardless of race, gender, income level, educational level, religious practices, etc.
As Paul said, we know what to do. We just have to choose to do it. At the end of the day, it’s not the size of our love that matters, but the fact that we intentionally loved throughout the day that counts. If we can focus our time and energy into loving others all day long, then change is going to come. Change in our homes. Change in our communities. Change in our nation. And change in our world.
I love this verse from Romans. It’s such a great reminder of the debt that we owe one another.
So how do we heal the world? One act of love at a time.
Blessings and Peace,