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Love and Folders: Choosing to love more deeply

This morning my son’s folder was sitting on the kitchen table. Not a big deal except that if he leaves it there while the rest of him goes to school, he has to “flip his card” (a step on the way to the imposition of discipline). One of the things we’ve been trying to teach our kids is responsibility. Michelle and I both believe this is an essential character trait for life. At the same time, every fiber of my being longed to rescue my son from the impending “card flip.” Yes, you heard me right. I was deeply wrestling with allowing my son to face a minuscule amount of reprove from his teacher despite the opportunity to have him learn something extremely valuable in the process. This is endemic of a problem Michelle and I both face–we always want to rescue our kids.

“We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Romans 5:3-4

The reality is that my children have not faced anything that could aptly be called suffering to this point in their lives. Shoot, even my most difficult moments pale in comparison to the suffering much of the world faces. My children are growing up in a suffering-free greenhouse curated by me. In the process I am robbing them daily of the moments that would lead to the development of perseverance, character, and hope. I am keeping them from becoming what they could be because of my intense desire to protect them.

The root of my drive to keep them surrounded in metaphorical bubble wrap is love. I love my kids. I love them deeply and intensely. I would do anything for them. Well, anything except allow the development of their character through struggle. I’m guessing I’m not the only parent harming my children with my love for them. Real love desires the best for someone, not the easiest. Love that forsakes the best for the easiest is less than it could be.

“We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.” Albus Dumbledore (Thank you for forgiving a bit of Harry Potter nerdery, but the quote is solid!)

Obviously I am not suggesting that we haphazardly force struggle on our children. To say love is only expressed through allowing difficulty would be ridiculous. Yet I highly doubt many parents are in danger of allowing their children to face too much difficulty or struggle. Many of us won’t even let our kids learn responsibility by allowing them to leave their folders on the kitchen table.

Function Junction

Picture this scenario, one you’ve encountered hundreds of times in your life.  You are meeting someone for the first time–a roommate, a friend’s friend, a co-worker, the auditor from the IRS (just got my taxes done yesterday, so I have residual IRS thoughts).  You get through the pleasantries–hi, how are you, my name is, your name is–and now there’s the first brief moment of silence.  What do you ask?  Or if they’re quicker on the proverbial draw, what do they ask you?  With just a handful of exceptions the question tends to be, so….what do you do?  And as soon as they tell you their occupation and you tell them yours you both start to form opinions of each other.  Because we all have at least some general thoughts about what teachers are like, or architects, or doctors, or pastors.  So we begin to decide some things about this new person based purely on the work they do.  With time and a growing relationship these impressions can fade, but I find it interesting that we go there to begin with.  We self-identify and judge others based on function.

“When asked to identify themselves today, people commonly refer to their career, job title, employer, or educational achievements.  This response illustrates how the culture of modernity roots a person’s identity in one’s achievements and place in the social order, especially the economic social order.  What identifies people is their function–what they do rather than their character or their personal qualities.”  Missional Church, p. 28

While we have launched headlong into postmodernity, we still maintain a great deal of residue from our four hundred year stay in modernity.  One of the things we’ve retained is this propensity for identifying ourselves and others based on function and achievement.  I see whispers of moving away from this, but I think it’s something we should work hard to accelerate.  It’s not wrong to share our job or achievements, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if we identified ourselves and sought to know others for who they are instead of what they do?  This is important on a personal level, and for followers of Christ it is important on a communal level as well.

“By this all people will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  Jesus

Too many times churches, if they are known at all, are known for what they do–their function.  They are known for having a huge building, for entertaining the kids well, for having great music, for a good speaker, and on and on.  And despite all these things, study after study says people who are not Christians know churches as judgmental, cold, indifferent, hypocritical.  We need to be known for our character, and in particular for the way we love.  This will never come from a building or a program.  These can be tools we use, but if all the focus is placed on growing the physical manifestation of the church and it’s bill of services, we neglect the thing our founder called us to be known for–our character.

So I suggest that individually and communally we all seek to be known for who we really are, rather than what we’ve done in the past or what we do now.  This will be a deeper and truer way of understanding and impacting each other.