“Everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” (1 John 4:7)
For the first twenty-plus years of my life, spirituality meant going to church, reading my scriptures, and praying. It was a personal thing, and I rarely suspected that spirituality and sociality might be connected.
It was a spiritual half-life. I was following Jesus in devotional practices, but totally ignoring his greater legacy of loving others. Consequently, I was strictly obedient but not altogether happy. I recited “I am a child of God” but it meant little because I didn’t spend time loving other children of God. I was horribly uncertain of myself and my ability to contribute because I had never stretched myself in ways of serviceable contribution.
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The first half of the year 2014 was bliss: I had an amazing summer job and my first-ever boyfriend. I was emotionally sated with dopamine, mountain air, and good friends. I was HAPPY. So happy. But the job and the boyfriend were temporary. By August of 2014 I found myself—a college graduate—living with my parents: no money, no friends, and a soul-sucking job at a call-center.
To say that I was discouraged would be an understatement.
But I had faith in God… so I redecorated my room. Wall colors and bedroom decor probably don’t matter much in the grand scheme of things, but it seemed important at the time. So I found three frames at the thrift store, painted them, and inserted bible verses. Then I repurposed a little wooden block. I painted it red and wrote the words, “Dear God, who needs me today?” I hung the sign by my bedroom door, just above the light switch, where I would see it every day.
The block itself was kind of ugly. My cursive was barely legible. But that question—”Dear God, who needs me today”—was essential! I woke up each day with a purpose larger than my own gloomy circumstances. I couldn’t wallow. I couldn’t sulk. As long as God answered that question (and He ALWAYS did), my life had meaning.
I started sending texts, sharing meals, and talking to strangers more often. In the course of all this, my external circumstances changed. The crappy call-center position gave way to grad school and a teaching assistantship. The bearded boyfriend was replaced by a clean-shaven wonder (now my husband).
But more notable than the external circumstances was the change that took place in my heart. I experienced the gospel of Jesus Christ not as weight, but as wings.*
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I know God better today because I am practicing loving his children. Because I ask God every day, “Who needs me?” –It’s not that they need ME, of course. They need God, but He’s willing to let me help with the work. And as a side-effect of my discipleship, I receive gifts of laughter, warmth, and friendship.
Loving others is not a secret, and yet, I do think it is one of the mysteries of godliness. We simply can’t know of the immense joy and connection, the dramatic way that the universe reconfigures when we start living with others in mind. Compassion replaces our insecurities and connection drives away despondence. We feel close to God in quiet, pervasive ways.
It is as the scriptures say: “Everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” –1 John 4:7
*Not weight but wings… this glorious phrase comes from Harry Emerson Fosdick, 1923.