My Dear One,
Sometimes something gets under your skin and you just can’t get it out.
Sometimes that something is a place, perhaps a good place, that feels like a spiritual home you joyfully return to again and again. Sometimes that something is a situation, perhaps a bad situation, with no clear resolution so it festers within you day and night. Sometimes that something is a person, perhaps someone you love, and they become such a part of you that you know you will carry them with you for the rest of your life.
And sometimes that something is simply a splinter, like the one in my finger this very moment that is too deep to remove and reminds me of its presence with every word I am typing.
For the past three years I have had the profound privilege of helping to lead a series of adult mission trips to build Habitat for Humanity houses. We’ve worked on a house for a young couple whose families have lived in New Mexico for generations but due to rising property values could not afford a home without the help of Habitat. We’ve worked on a house for a single mother of five children forging a new life after she left a cult that made national news and now needed the help of strangers to get her feet firmly on the ground again. And this week we’ve worked on a house for a woman who, two years ago, saw her home destroyed by hurricane flood waters and ever since that time has relied on the kindness of others to keep a roof over her head.
At the beginning of the week, we showed up and began to assemble wood into walls, still nothing more than a 2x4 skeleton structure of a house, but it is her house, a place that is her own. For the first time in years, she stood in her kitchen, sat in her bedroom, walked through her front door. When the first wall went up, she kissed it. At the end of the day, she stepped back to look at all the progress that had been made and cried. When we left the job site today, our final day, with all the walls assembled and hurricane braces in place, she hugged each one of us. She said it was the best week of her life.
Our group signed up for this trip months ago knowing it meant building a house in the sweltering southeast Texas summer. We didn’t pay money and give up vacation days because we loved her, we didn’t even know her name until this week. We didn’t do it for love of self, there were other more comfortable things we might have spent our time and money on. It would be easy to say it was for the love of God, and I’m sure on one level that is true. But I’m not sure that in our minds it was even that concrete, at least it wasn’t in mine.
We certainly did it out of love, but love for who? I think, maybe, we did it not for love towards someone but simply for love’s own sake. We loved for the sake of love. We loved because we are loved, and the reason for life is precisely to love. I mean this in the fullest and truest meaning of that word. Not as some form of transactional love. We didn’t show love because of what she did for us, which was nothing. We didn’t show love because of the good feeling serving gave each of us, though, in addition to the splinters and sunburns, we are taking away a lot from this week.
We showed love because of Love.
“Love God … and love neighbor as you love yourself. Do this and you will live,” Jesus says.
Whether it is directed towards God, neighbor or self, the underlying call is the same: everything points to love.
And that’s why we allow things to get under our skin. To love is to submit, to allow our crusty, hard, outer shell to be vulnerable to the pain of being pierced.
I could choose to be thick-skinned, attempting to secure myself from the possibility of pain, to not let the splinters in, to be unmoved by the struggles of others, to steel my heart away so that it cannot be broken. I could pretend that I don’t need what a place, situation, or person has to offer me, all the gifts they could be in my life. I could pretend that I don’t need anything beyond what I can secure for myself, telling myself and the world that I am a self-sufficient lone-wolf.
But that is no way to live. The Way to live is to love.
And the only way to love is allow things to get under your skin. Sometimes they will feel wonderful. Sometimes they will hurt. Strangely enough, they will often do both at the same time. We don’t always get to choose the effects of love, it is too unpredictable, too wild, too uncontrollable to bend to our narrowly-informed wills.
But following The Way of Jesus continually leads us to forks in the road where we may choose to serve self or to serve others, to love only self or to love all God has made, to take the easy road of our own ego or the hard road of love.
I give thanks this week for the opportunity to take the harder road, and the community of fellow servants who did the same as we supported one another through all of the hammered thumbs, bumped elbows, broken hearts, and splintered souls.
following The Way,