My Advent reflection book contained portions of a story by Bishop Ken Untener called the Dream Fixer. The reflections were about our being God’s dream, and the ways we are broken dreams. One piece read:
Let me put it in terms that have a familiar ring to them because they’re taken from the story of…Jesus.
~I am the sheep that wandered off into the wilderness, alone, hungry, afraid.
~I am the younger son who took the inheritance and squandered it…
~I am the one the robbers beat and left half dead on the road to Jericho…
As I pondered each of these people from Scripture, it came to me that while I can easily imagine myself in these sympathetic roles, I can also see that:
~I am the failed shepherd.
~I am the older son, resentful and angry.
~I am one of the robbers, using someone to my advantage.
It seems natural for me to align myself with the innocent victim—and more challenging for me to see myself as the less sympathetic person. But, I can be both.Preparing for my retreat last month, the phrase, abide in love (1 John 4:16) came to mind. I have been pondering the many manifestations of love and also thinking of February as the month of love, so it did not surprise me that this phrase popped into my mind.
Loving family and friends seems a like a good first step in the practice of abiding in love. Being loving toward those closest to us can be enough of a challenge, but I believe God’s calling is to go deeper and wider.
God calls me to love myself, to see myself as God sees me and to accept God’s version of me. God calls me to love those seemingly unlovable parts of myself—the failures and anger and aggression. How do I take responsibility for my failures, my resentment and my aggression? How do I love myself in those unlovable places?
And, as important, how do I love others who fail or are angry or cause harm to others? Can I see them as God sees them? And love them as God loves them?Abide in love instructs me to do just that. To live in love, to continually dip back into the love of God to remind myself what it means to see people as God sees them and to love them as God loves them—that is the invitation and the challenge.
When I can embrace the failed, angry, aggressive parts of myself, perhaps I can have more empathy for those traits in others. Maybe a greater awareness of my own darkness will make me more understanding of others, more willing to forgive, more willing to be compassionate and accepting.
My Advent reflection fits into my retreat invitation—and into a Lenten practice.Lent is a time of conversion, a change of heart. The fact that Lent began on Valentine’s Day this year magnifies the invitation to abide in love.