BY JESSICA SHERRILL, GRACE ATTENDER
This weekend Barry wrapped up the ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor’ series. A series that detailed the importance of a loving community as shown not only in the life of Jesus, but also in the nostalgia of ‘Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.’
As I was putting away my notebook and pen, Melody Boyer made a comment that struck a heartstring with me. I won’t say it as eloquently as she did but just before we dismissed she made the comment that we are designed to be in a community of love, both giving and receiving. Let me say it again: we are designed to be a part of a community that GIVES love and RECEIVES love. And it hit me hard, down deep in my heart. I need to work on giving more love, definitely, and for the most part, I like to think that I am relatively good at the giving of love. However, I think that I am hesitant to be on the receiving end of love, especially to surround myself with an entire community of love.
Then I started thinking, I can’t be the only one that feels this way. Then I wondered a lot of ‘whys?’ Why does this world seem to be filled with the antithesis of love? Why aren’t we loving each other? Why can’t I just let people in? Why does receiving love make me uncomfortable? I thought of that simple commandment in Matthew 22:39 “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And I think that this might be part of the problem: I don’t love myself.
I know I don’t love me like Jesus does. And if I can’t love myself, it makes it hard to let others love me, and then I can’t love others, so it’s just one big tangled mess. I think a lot of it has to do with that when I see me, I see all of the things that I cannot do well. I see nothing but my failures. I have hurts, wounds, and brokenness like everyone else, and it is by these things that I identify myself. For most of my life, I have gone to bed and awaken robed in the weight of the world, layered up with what has been done to me by others and by my own self. Anything that had been taken off the night before is put back on. I can guarantee you every day I put on an extra layer of guilt and shame before I head out the door. How can I love the hot mess that is me? I don’t feel worthy to receive love from other people. My internal monologue is usually, ‘how can you love me when I…?’
So if we can’t love ourselves correctly, how can we ever expect to love our neighbor? I don’t have all of the answers, but I think that maybe the answer lies in verse 37, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” I know we need more of this going on…just loving God, putting Him first. Because if we can love God and wildly pursue Him, He will show us His transforming love. He will pour it over us and it will fill us up. However, we have to surrender to God and let God love us. We have to be on the receiving end of God’s love. And God’s love is the best love, the purest love.
I also think we are afraid to be open and honest with each other, so we clutch our brokenness tightly and we are resistant to community. I will tell you one thing I have learned, clutching your brokenness gives it power. It was only when I could truly surrender to God, my clutched fists of brokenness started to relax to a palms open attitude. Letting God’s love in, allows Him to take my layers of brokenness off one at a time, and hang them back up in the closet.
One misconception I had, embarrassing as it is, that when I rose up out of the baptismal, that life would be completely different. I wouldn’t need my layers anymore and I’d be good to go on my own. But that’s not true. Wearing those layers is a choice. When you wear them for so long, they become comfortable. Those layers of failure, brokenness, shame and hurt are a choice to wear every day. The enemy will stand behind you in the mirror and tell you how good you look cloaked in shame and guilt, perfuming you in your sins. But when you surrender to God, God stands between you and the mirror so that you just see Him and He leads the way.
Here is where community is so great: In case you can’t hear the voice of God clearly yet or if He’s not obstructing your view in the mirror completely, a community of God loving people will look at you, shake their head ‘no’ and tell you that the outfit of shame you’re wearing doesn’t look good on you. They will help you take those layers off, and they will dress you in God’s truth. THIS is why community is important. Isolation from community is a tool of the enemy and it is time we stop letting him have the power!
So many people today say they don’t need church. I told myself that for a period of time. But, I can tell you it is not true. Dave Rod has acknowledged numerous times that there are many that have been burned by the church. I know that searing pain, I’m one of them. But know this, for as many people that have been burned by the church, there are that many and more that are praying that you make your way back to God and back to community. Mr. Rogers said ‘Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like ‘struggle.’ To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.” I found that with Grace Church. To tell you that I have found a community humbles me. Through Rooted, I have found a group of people that are quick to speak truth into my life when I feel defeated. Rooted gave way to growth, and maybe it is slow growth, but it is a sturdy growth that out of it, fruit has been born.
The community at Grace Church makes that offer to you every weekend at the big orange rug, just to say ‘hello.’ Will you take us up on it? If it is too much, because the church is huge and the church body size is overwhelming, the staff is there to address immediate needs privately. If you need prayer, will you let us pray for you? Will you step out on a limb and serve with us? I’ll make it more personal and save you a seat by me. Just, please, won’t you be our neighbor?