This Lent we have been reflecting on time as God’s gift. To review:
It’s time to stop. We were created to rest, refresh, renew, to breathe and be. We are wired for a rhythm with rests in order to be present to ourselves and others. Sabbath is not simply for sustenance but central to our identity.
It’s time to pray. God initiates connection. We don’t know how, but the Spirit prays for us with sighs too deep for words. All is welcomed and possible through our human senses and feelings. Pray however you can.
It’s time to work: to create, adapt, build, support, engineer, write, discover. Framing can help us focus. We need discipline to curb distractions. Work can be a blessing rather than an overbearing toil.
It’s time to play. For all of us at every age, play keeps us alive. “The opposite of play is not work but depression.” (1) Risk acting pure pleasure not productivity. Be imaginative. Keep learning. Our best work is playful. Play with your prayer. Stop to play.
Now for this last week of Lent: it’s time to love. This is not one more thing to do. It’s another gift to receive. It’s time to be loved.
Jesus loves us. We know it. We say it. It sounds simple, yet it is not easy. It’s hard to accept, to really experience divine love and let that love change us. That’s why love is a consistent theme, why we’re talking about it again tonight. What gets in the way? What blocks us? Why is it so hard to be loved?
To be loved means to be seen and to be known. There is so much we try to hide. We work hard to present a polished portrait, hiding what’s feeble, lacking or wounded. Masking what is messy and complicated: the families and places from which we come, what we have done or not done.
We shudder and run from the naked truth that we are limited, that we are imperfect. We feel ashamed because we think we’re not enough—not good enough, smart enough, attractive enough, strong enough—not enough to be loved just the way we are right now.
So we try to earn approval. We bend over backwards attempting to make people like us. We’re adept at accumulating, in our search to fill an aching absence. By commanding and clinging, we try to grab control.
When someone, especially Jesus, says: “I love you,” we often respond: “If you really knew me, you couldn’t possibly love me. If you love me, it’s in part because you don’t fully know me.” Though we long for it, though we desire it, receiving love is difficult. It’s an act of surrender.
One of our nation’s most treasured and well-known clergy was amazingly successful extending love freely and in people receiving it, being changed. He often sang his love, including:
It’s you I like,
It’s not the things you wear,
It’s not the way you do your hair—
But it’s you I like
The way you are right now,
The way down deep inside you—
Not the things that hide you,
… It’s you, it’s you I like. (2)
The Rev. Fred Rogers wrote and sang those words. Most of us know him as Mister Rogers who transformed television and our hearts as he kept inviting: “Would you be mine? Could you be mine? Won’t you be my neighbor?” (3)
Drawing on his studies in music composition, child development and theology, Rev. Rogers ministered to millions for 33 years with his innovative show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood nurturing children and everyone who watched.
Jesus said: “Love your neighbor” and “abide in my love.” Mister Rogers invited all of us to be his neighbor and to be at home with him. In word, song and action, he communicated: Welcome, friend. You are special to me. Relax. Make yourself at home in my love.
Abide can mean to live in, to make yourself at home. There’s a gutsy quality to abide. It also means to remain or to stick with. Jesus says: the Father has stuck with me. I’ll stick with you no matter what. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, what you have or what you lack. I will never leave you. Make yourself at home. Relax. I am with you no matter what.
It’s time to be loved, to surrender to the surprise, to rest in the reality. Let me suggest two practices for surrendering, for receiving God’s love.
First, what image from scripture or life evokes love for you? Play with that in your prayer. Perhaps imagine God as a hen who gathers us under strong wings. Imagine yourself as a lamb with a shepherd who calls you by name and leads you to safety. Gaze at the vast expanse of stars at night remembering promise and provision like Abraham. Remember climbing on a sturdy rock, finding refuge in the woods or being held in an adult’s arms. Spend time being still with that image or scene and ask for help to more deeply experience divine love.
Second, talk to a safe, trustworthy person. Share your feelings. Tell your story. Be vulnerable. May a friend or mentor or companion or counselor be Jesus in the flesh for you. Love listens, and it changes us. Letting ourselves be seen, letting our stories be witnessed by another person, being accepted for who we are actually changes our internal chemistry. Love changes us.
In his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul says Jesus followers give off a divine fragrance or aroma which points to God. (4) As we accept and abide in love, love then comes out of us as a sweet smell. Jesus says: “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” Receive it. Rest in it. “Freely loved and fully known,” we are then enabled to accept others as Christ accepts us. (5)
This Lenten series on time is not so much a to-do list as a list of gifts to cherish. They may not easy gifts to receive, but they are good and they will change us: stop, pray, work, play, love.
Claim the gifts. Watch the truth spread and change you creating a beautiful aroma, the fragrance of God drawing everyone into the embrace of Divine love.
- Stuart Brown with Christopher Vaughan (2009) Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul. Avery, p126.
- Fred M. Rogers (1970) “It’s You I Like”
- Fred M. Rogers (1967) “Won’t You Be My Neighbor”
- 2 Corinthians 2:14-15
- Brian Wren (1980) “When Christ Was Lifted From the Earth,” #603 in The Hymnal 1982
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