Looking closely at the heart shaped pads of this particualr prickly pear cactus reminded me that love is sometimes like that; a bit prickly, a bit difficult. Some people seem so easy to love, and some people pose a challenge for us. Even those we find easy to love, our friends, husbands, children, can also at times be 'prickly' to us. And if we are honest with ourselves, sometimes we are the 'prickly' one! Prickly or not, God has called us to love one another.
This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you. John 15: 12
If you fulfill the royal law, the law of our King, "You shall love your neighbor, as yourself", you are doing well. James 2: 8
Notice it doesn't say, love them only if
- they are easy to love, and make you feel those warm fuzzies
- they look like you, think like you, and have your same values
- they never disappoint you, never hurt you, or never frustrate you
Nope, we are called to love in spite of all those things!
Recently God gave me a wonderful opportunity to love, not long after I came back from the desert. Only I didn't see it as wonderful at first. I saw it as prickly, as hard work ( which most opportunities are!) You see, I have been praying for quite some time that God would bring workers to our little congregation that exists in somewhat of a missionary type field. I asked for people who would help in the work here, strenghtening the weak among us, doing the work needed within our church, and also to envangelize- to work in our community-to seek and save the lost. I have been praying for Him to bring us those people who would 'hit the ground running', so to speak. And He has, and I thanked Him, shouted "Hallelulia", and asked for more workers. And He brought even more, and yet I am still praying for workers, for we have much to do. But to my shame, I have not once prayed that He would bring us someone who was very fragile spiritually, someone who on the outside seems so very different from most of us, someone who needs us, all of us, to love, care for, and nuture. While I pray for evangelistic opportunities, I hadn't prayed for Him to bring us the slow growers, or for Him to bring us those who are already His, yet are so very fragile. And yet He did. And He has opened my eyes and my heart up wider than before. He is teaching me not to just believe the words of James 2:13, " Mercy triumps over judgment", but to live those words. He is teaching me that love often looks and feels alot like hard work: the giving of patience over and over, the forgiving and continuing to forgive, and the hard work of denying self to put others needs ahead of our own. And He is teaching me to spend time, to give of my time and energy, both in fervent prayer, and in *meeting them where they are, showing compassion and love, without spouting out anwers that perhaps they aren't ready to hear.
It wasn't until I spent time in the cactus garden that I learned to look past the prickliness of those slow growing desert plants, and begin to appreciate them and see their unique beauty. Likewise, by spending time with those who by manner or appearance seem prickly and very different from me, I am learning to see the beauty of the soul within, the fragile soul who needs love and guidance, which is really all of us, isn't it?
* A shout out of thanks to a wise woman, my Joshua, who helped me see the value in meeting someone right where they are, the value in going the distance needed, the value in listening and compassion, the value in not always having a ready answer, but of always having a ready heart.