I am going to stand in for Chaplain Mike for a few days as he takes a well-deserved breather. I have some observations and questions regarding Catholicism I want to lay out before you the next few days. I thought now, with the installation of Pope Francis, was as good a time as any. But this morning I want to get something off of my chest. I’ve touched on this before, but now I want to explore it much more fully. This is an emotional issue for me, though I will try to keep my emotions in check so this doesn’t just turn into a longwinded rant.
I am through looking to Christians for love.
I’m not talking about romantic love. I’m not trying come up with the name of the best Christian dating service. My wife would probably have a thing or ten to say about that. No, I’m talking about something much deeper than romantic love, which can vary with the wind. I’m referring to love that causes one to care for another in a giving, unselfish manner. And rather than reinvent the wheel, let’s just go with Gary Chapman’s “love languages”: gift giving, time spent, encouraging words, acts of service, and physical touch. You might be able to come up with other ways to describe love, but these will do for now.
And, just for fun, let’s revisit the words of Jesus to his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion.
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. This is my command: Love each other. (John 15: 12, 13, 17, NIV)
Love each other. This is my command: Love each other. Not a suggestion, not a helpful thought. A command.
I have also made it clear that I suffer from depression. Most of the time it is under control with the medicine I take, the exercise I make myself do, and the rest I get. But there are times when I am under extreme stress that the depression kicks up to “11” (“The numbers all go to eleven. Look, right across the board, eleven, eleven, eleven and…”) and I am basically paralyzed. No, it’s worse than that. I’m not paralyzed. I despair of life. At times like these I just hide in bed and hope no one will find me. I don’t just have a headache. I have a lifeache. And I want it to all go away.
I went thru a very rough patch in November when this “11” setting on my depression meter stayed there for most of a month. I didn’t think I could take much more. I shared my story with a good friend and elder at my church.
“You? Depressed? No, you couldn’t be. You’re the most upbeat person I know.”
Well, what can I say? I wear a really good mask. I tried again with another friend and elder, pulling him out of a Sunday service to pray for me right then. He did, but didn’t ask any questions or offer any encouragement. It was pray, then head back into the sanctuary. I headed home.
Three more elders, three more “I’ll pray for you” responses, then nothing. I spoke to our senior pastor, telling him I even had suicidal thoughts (fleeting; but still) in my despair. I stood there crying as I shared what had been going on in my life and how it had stripped me of just about everything. Our pastor told me he was proud of me for hanging in there. Excuse me. Did you hear what I just said? I despair of life so very much I thought about ending it all. That was my unspoken thought. Surely he’ll call me this week to get together for coffee and talk about this some more. No call. No coffee. No talk. No care.
I talked with four other pastors at our church. One has gotten together with me on a couple of occasions for some good, honest talk. The other three? Nada. A couple of the elders told me to call them if I was having another bad day, as if depression was the same as just feeling blue. Do they not know that those of us with depression could no more pick up the phone, call someone and say “I’m having a bad day” than we could learn to fly?
iMonk writer Adam Palmer, who goes to my church, does care. He will text me out of the blue to check on me. He’ll hunt me down in church to tell me about some obscure indie group he discovered that he thinks I would like as well. (He’s almost always right.) Adam doesn’t coddle me or patronize me. He just loves me.
He loves me. Well, there’s one.
Do you know what it feels like to have someone love you not for anything you can do for them, but just because of who you are? Even when you are totally messed up and are fighting just to make it one more hour? It is like cold water in the desert.
One person. One person from my church cares enough to show me love when I need it. What about other Christians I know? The short answer is No. A little longer answer is Hell No. One good friend, for instance, refuses to say or show love because it might be inappropriate. Inappropriate? And I suppose Jesus’ love was always appropriate? No, it wasn’t. Wherever Jesus went he created scandals with his love. His love at a wedding feast created a scandal with the host. His love for sinners he invited to dinner was always getting him in trouble. His love for a man possessed by demons created a scandal when he freed him and sent a herd of pigs—some person’s livelihood—into the sea. And what a scandal he caused by talking to the woman at the well. Not only a woman, but a slut. Not only that, but a Samaritan slut. He loved these and more. Lepers. Bleeding women. Blind and lame men and women. Sinners. Losers. He loved them all, and this caused a great uproar and scandal. But Jesus refused to put his love in a nice, neat box that would be walled in by appropriateness and law and being a good person. He refused to water down his love with rules and regulations and boundaries. His love was full and complete and unconditional and totally scandalous. Of the millions that surrounded Jesus as he walked the roads of Israel, only a handful received his love. And to this day, of the billions who consider themselves Christians, only a handful will really receive his love without adding conditions and codicils and footnotes to it.
I’ve mentioned a coworker I call Smokey. She is a young agnostic tatted-up woman who wants nothing to do with Jesus. But once I explained to her that I was struggling with depression, Smokey has been there daily to tell me she loves me. She asks me what she can do to help me. She gives me little gifts, like a cup of ice water or a handful of yogurt-covered almonds. She volunteers to do extra work, work she wouldn’t have to do, to take a bit off of my plate. Smokey shows me more love than just about any Christian I know. There is nothing romantic about her love. There is nothing inappropriate. There is only what Jesus told us, his disciples, to do. Love each other.
So why does Smokey, an adamant non-Christian, “get it” when it comes to love, but most every Christian I know doesn’t? Why is it that when I am struggling, like I am right now, I can’t get my brothers and sisters in Christ to show love without a court order, but those like Smokey and other employees and customers I work with will show love in their words and deeds? How is it that those in whom Love Himself lives bottle up love and refuse to give it while those who do not know Love are very free with their love? I really don’t get it. I am ready to quit Christians, or at least quit hoping Christians will do what Jesus commanded and love each other. Christians don’t get it. Agnostics and atheists do. Something is really screwy here.
Am I wrong? Am I placing too much emphasis on love? Should I really expect my Christian friends to show me love with their words and actions? And when they don’t, do I have the right to ask them why not? Maybe love is outdated. Maybe I’m living in a fantasy world, thinking that when I am hurting I can expect others to come alongside of me and not leave. Perhaps wanting someone to say “I love you” is a wrong desire. I don’t know. I know I love others because Jesus tells me to, and because Love lives in me and I can do no less. Is it fair for me to question whether Love really lives in those who refuse to love?
Maybe I should be a Power Ranger Christian male, one who never admits he needs the love of others. One who only gives and receives side hugs. One who would rather wear a skirt than tell other guys, “I love you.” But I can’t do that. I can’t stop being who my Father made me to be. I can’t stop loving others as Jesus commanded. I’m willing to be mocked as long as my words are sincere and are given to those who need them the most. For when I give love, I am reflecting my Father, and that gives him joy, which makes me happy. So if you see me anytime soon, and I tell you or show you in some way that I love you, please know I mean it. Please receive it as from my heart, a heart surrendered to Christ. And if you want to tell me you love me, that will be just fine.