We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also.
-2 Cor 6:3-13.
Back in February, I heard Donald Miller speak at a conference for youth workers at Willow Creek. It was quite an overwhelming experience to say the least- Willow Creek is a church of 30,000 people- it looks like a mall, has a waterfall AND a cafeteria. I was most excited to hear Donald Miller speak, because I have read all of his books multiple times (gosh, I am a nerd)- but I love his writing, his perspective and how he is a Christian, but doesn’t seem like a weirdo.
Donald Miller based his talk around the idea of stories and heroes. He talked about how it’s not surprising that kids are getting into a lot of trouble these days, drinking, drugs, sex, consuming- sort of getting stuck in lives that aren’t really going anywhere. He was completely non-judgemental, as his point was, that it is no wonder that kids (and adults)get stuck in lives like this- because it’s seemingly exciting. And the problem with the Church, or Christianity, or whatever you want to call it, is that it can seem incredibly boring. And I fully agreed with good ole’ Don Miller. It CAN appear boring- all about rules and ritual, about a life of depravity…blah, blah.
So, then he told a story about his friend’s daughter, who was going down this crappy path, making bad choices, dating some dude who was going nowhere. He talked about how her father decided that the whole family had to come together to help the daughter realize that she wasn’t living up to her potential. So, somehow, they got involved with a project in Mexico that helped orphans find homes, or something along those lines. The point is, that that daughter felt like she had become important in the lives of other people- in a way, she had become the hero. She was suddenlu living for something beyond herself- she didn’t need a dead end boyfriend, she was a frigging hero!
Donald Miller went on to talk about how a life lived for God, a life of faith should never be boring. That in fact, we are called to be heroes. It’s kind of a cheesy story, and I realize that saving orphans doesn’t and shouldn’t define us, but I think his point was a around about way of saying that we are made for something more.
After I heard him speak about heroes, I thought a lot about it. I love to read, and like most people, I always cheer for the hero- the underdog, the one who makes the tough, but noble decisions in the face of great adversity. And sometimes, I try to picture my life in a book- and I look at my decisions and the way that I react to things and sadly, more often than not, I don’t think that I act like the hero that I want to be.
I was thinking about this last night as I read through 2 Corinthians…Paul talks about how he and his buddies are trying to make the right decisions, to live righteously and justly in a land and time that was anything but. What really spoke to me though, is the part where Paul tells the Corinthians that they have “freely opened wide their hearts to them” and then remarks how the Corinthians’s hearts remained closed. I imagined that must have been pretty crappy for Paul- because I know from experience, sometimes I have opened my heart to others to find a closed heart in return- and worse, I have closed my heart to people that have freely given me theirs. I am learning that in relationships, it takes being a hero to open up your heart to people- especially when they seemed to have closed themselves off from you. It takes a hero to know that the right and loving thing to do- is stay put, dig in- keep your heart open- no matter what the response is. I am ashamed to admit that sometimes, if I feel that people have wronged me, my initial response is to pull away, close myself off- I guess because I feel like I need to self-protect, but worse is that I want to in a way, punish someone for hurting me. I feel like a monster staying this- but it’s true.
Reading the letter to the Corinthians and thinking about heroes has made realize that being a hero can be as small as keeping my heart open- and recognizing and correcting my closed heart when I feel myself wanting to withdraw from people when I feel slighted, replaced or demoted.
Identity is such a funny and evolving concept. This summer I taught a session on Identity in Christ to a group of 16 year- olds and here I am, weeks later, learning that it’s a much bigger picture. Like Paul says, in Christ, we possess everything we need- including a place where our hearts can be infinitely open, knowing that there is no risk of failure or pain- and from that- we can go out into the world and love people without conditions. I love how Paul says that he has
not withheld affection from the people, despite the fact that he felt like something was clearly off in their relationship. Life is way too short to be cheap with our love and affection for others.
I want to love people without conditions- I want to love people despite how they feel about me. I imagine that is what the hero would do…
Open up heart.