Monday, May 6, 2013

Not as the World Gives


Jesus says to his disciples in his farewell discourse in John’s Gospel, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and not let them be afraid” (14:27). This bestowal of peace occurs in a context where Jesus promises the gift of the Holy Spirit (14:26). The Johannine community (the church/community out of which the Gospel of John emerged and to whom it was primarily written) clearly associated God’s gift of peace with God’s loving, dynamic presence.

On our part, the gift of God’s peace is inseparably connected to our capacity to trust in the provision and sufficiency of God’s loving presence. The phrase in our passage where Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid,” recalls an earlier statement by Jesus at the beginning of this chapter, where he says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me” (14:1). Can we trust in the provision of God’s love? Can we believe that God loves us and makes his/her home in/with/among us, no matter what?

Ethicist John Kavanaugh spent three months “at the house of the dying” in Calcutta. At the time he was seeking a clear answer as to how to best spend the rest of his life. On the first morning there he met Mother Teresa. She asked, “And what can I do for you?” Kavanaugh asked her to pray for him. “What do you want me to pray for?” she asked. He said, “Pray that I have clarity.” She firmly retorted, “No, I will do that.” Of course he wanted to know why. She answered, “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go.” When Kavanaugh commented that she always seemed to have the clarity he longed for, she laughed and said, “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.”

Can we trust God’s love? Can we trust that we are loved by God unconditionally and eternally? Can we firmly anchor our identity — “who we are and how we see ourselves”—in God’s love?

God’s peace is not subject to human forces. If we are secure in God’s love for us, we can still have peace even when we become the target of criticism or the projected fears and anxieties of others. We can still have peace, even when we become the object of malicious attack or are betrayed and abandoned the way Jesus was by his closest friends. God’s peace can endure all of that. 

When we trust securely in God’s unconditional love, we will not be manipulated or influenced by human opinion. So often the ego inflates or deflates on the basis of human approval or disapproval. We allow outside influences and cultural forces to affect our sense of self-worth. We have a tendency to be up or down on the basis of whether we are blamed or praised, accepted or rejected, adored or condemned.

As we learn to rest and trust in the Divine Love that calls us the beloved and names us as sons and daughters of God, we can become so firmly anchored in the Divine Presence and acceptance that the waves of human criticism and condemnation will not drown us. They may tear at us and we will feel the wear, but we will still be anchored in the larger story of God’s love and purpose for our lives.

As we grow in God’s love and peace, we may even get to the place where we can give ourselves to others without expecting or needing anything in return.

As I have written before, I’m not suggesting in any way that one remain in a place of victimization or dysfunction. But I am saying that when we know that we are fully received by God, that we are God’s chosen, then we will be able to give ourselves more fully to others, without having to be acknowledged for it.

If we are dependent upon others, in hope that they will give us the love we need, if we try to get from others what only God can give us, then we could well be setting ourselves up for a lot of disappointment, frustration, and growing resentment. When we give ourselves to others more out of our own need for love, then our giving can easily become manipulative and even coercive.

But when we learn to rest in God’s presence and trust in God’s love, knowing that we are received and cherished by God, then we can give to others according to their capacity to receive and we can also receive from others according to their capacity to give. We can flow with the river, and will have no need to push the river or fight the river.  

The more deeply we can rest in God’s acceptance and love, the more freely we will be able to give “generously and ungrudgingly” the way God gives (James 1:5), without any sense of superiority or pride or need to be acknowledged for our generosity. At the same time, we will be able to receive gladly and gratefully from others without any sense of being short-changed or any sense of indebtedness. Maybe you have noticed that some people appear to be good givers, but not good receivers; maybe you are one of them. I tend to be. By trusting in God’s love, by allowing God to dwell in our hearts, we learn what it means to freely give and freely receive.

To love deeply means that we will hurt deeply, we will feel the pain of others and make it our pain. Loving the way God loves makes us vulnerable. Relationships will be very important to us, so when those relationships are broken we will feel the pain of that brokenness deeply. But when we trust in God’s love, we allow the pain we feel to connect us to the pain and suffering of the world, and in the largeness of God’s Story and God’s Spirit we find peace.

When we look for peace exclusively in the world, when we try to find peace in a job or career, in a marriage, in our families, in a church, in a religious or political movement, in a relationship, in a dream, or some sought after experience, we are going to be disappointed and frustrated. I am not suggesting that these things are unimportant; they obviously have varying degrees of importance in our lives. But all these things are unpredictable. When we rest and trust in God’s loving acceptance and presence, we are connected to the eternal source of love and life who can give us a peace that passes understanding and who can sustain us when all the other things in our lives are not going well.


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