There isn’t much that humbles more quickly or deeply than excrement, even when eliminated by the sweetest, most scrumptious toddler on earth. How did he execute such a tidy trifecta?? My husband, a relentless hockey buff, would proudly consider this a hat trick worthy of prime time replay. While impressive, those piles were also stinky, squishy and steamy as I gingerly retired them to their porcelain sea. In that moment, on my knees, face pressed near filth, I knew just how far I longed to go to care for this creature that needs me so. Not that I can ever meet all his (or any other’s) needs, but that I would spend myself, a deep and single-minded pursuit to walk alongside, to grant dignity, to preserve purity, to never abandon, to be Hands and Feet for those chubby fingers and toes.
Recently, I reread one of my favorite stories in a new way: “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God, so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.” (John 13:3-4)
This is the familiar foot washing that profoundly defines love as surrendered service. That day, I noticed an itty-bitty footnote that offered this transliteration of the famous foot bath: “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God, so he loved them to the last.” Surrender fully spent as the most powerful transaction. Ever.
Have we grasped that we could say the same for ourselves? I, [insert name], know that the Father has put all things under my power [by the Holy Spirit], and that I have come from God and am returning to God, so I love to the last. Do we trust that our humblest moments are the most powerful? Do we boldly spend ourselves for others as affirmation that we know we’re loved fully and forever? Paul says it like this, “We who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So, then, death is at work in us, [so that] life is at work in you.” (2 Cor 4:11-12)
I wish I could say this is my natural response to others, a deep-to-death surrender, a profound proclamation of the One who loves me. Most days, for most people, I’m too chicken. Until I stumbled on this and consider that I’ve missed something all along: “If the ministry that brought death (Old Testament law), which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness? For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison…if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts.” (2 Cor: 3:7-11)
It struck me then that I have looked to the law for love, learning who and how to be, rather than who and how I am, as perfect mastery of ancient stone commands. I have loved the law for its black and white boundaries, its framework to judge so convenient when confronting a wayward spouse, child or friend. The enemy sees the allure of the law, as well as its doomed fate without the Second Half, the gospel of Jesus Christ. Why do we prefer the law? It produces such a stifling burden that we begin to resent and reject, or desperately do, until we fall to bits and cry out for mercy that has been available all along. Paul’s passage above suggests that the glory in this kind of love has faded. I can feel that as I try and fail to find satisfaction in it. I am afraid of the relentless trying that leaves me empty and weary.
I have sought much less the love of my Lord. It’s grayer, it’s uncontainable, it’s mysterious, it’s impossibly humbling. As my daughter recently said at bedtime, “But, mom, I just want to hug Jesus.” It is so hard for little and large minds to trust the thing we cannot see. And, yet, this is where love lives that yields freedom, where the ministry of the Spirit delivers to trusting hearts lasting glory. What is this ministry of the Spirit? A ministry of reconciliation. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making an appeal through us.” (2 Cor 5:17-20)
This permission to embrace a love that heals is oh-so different than an unforgiving law that expects performance. The choice is clear: fear of the law or fear of the Lord, relentless measure or confident anticipation? Funny how we seek righteousness from the law but find it in forgiveness. This understanding of love, within a ministry of lasting glory, means the spending of self is not for death but life. It is not the grueling tasks that need attention each day or the wresting to be worthy, but the delivery of a single, powerful message. It is not the allure of “having it all” but the deep, deepest surrender to live in a way that testifies to eternity. It is loving to the last for that which lasts. And it is so worth it.
“You yourselves are our letter [of recommendation], written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (2 Cor 3:2-3) Have we abandoned our fear of the law to spend ourselves for reconciliation as testified by the ones we’ve loved?