I've been thinking a lot about the stages of development that we go through, either actively & in a healthy manner or passively & painfully, in becoming more like Jesus. Or just in general.
We go from that place where we go to the fridge & there's food, magically, for us to eat...
...into that place where we realize we have to go and BUY the food, oh, and before that make the money to buy the food.
We go from the place where we don't understand why we can't do whatever we want...
...to that place where we have a long sordid narrative of getting what we want and being completely destroyed by it.
This process is called "maturity" - the Bible calls it teleios - "complete" or "perfect in the sense of reaching its goal".
The reason I think about this is because I deal with people - and for whatever reason God has entrusted the life and development of people to me, the person who once started day dreaming, missed an exit, and drove nearly 40 minutes in the opposite direction. In these people I see pain, tragedy, and loss and so many times it has to do with, well...first things first...
Thankfully, I have a few guides to help along the journey - and I can admit my boneheadedness from time to time - and one of those guides is St. Bernard of Clairvaux. St. Bernard (no relation to the dog, at least not directly) writes beautifully about love and I find myself convinced that for us to think about maturity we have to see it through the lens of love. Why? Because Jesus made it most important to everything:
“Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”
Jesus replied, “ ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Mt. 22:36-40, NLT)
St. Bernard says there are four kinds of love that we express in our lives, and if we want to see ourselves grow and become mature - teleios - followers of Jesus, then we must desire to move from 1 to 4.
1. Love of self for self's sake - this one's pretty easy. We love ourselves because it satisfies our desires. Think babies screaming for food, being changed, sleep, etc. We are identifying totally with our impulses and immediate desires. This is where if we meet our basic survival needs, everything's good and we're suspicious of anyone or anything that would stand in the way of our being provided for.
2. Love of God for self's sake - we find our way into a relationship with God, and at the beginning we get "warm and fuzzy" feelings. It feels good to be forgiven, it feels good to be part of a community. It satisfies an impulse, though a deeper impulse than #1, but we still love God because of what He's doing to satisfy those needs.
3. Love of God for God's sake - we go through a time when the "warm and fuzzy" feelings disappear (we have to, God moves them because we'd never change if He didn't) and we learn to love God because HE'S GOD. Nothing more, not because He's satisfying our deeper impulses but because He is wonderful & beautiful and that is enough.
4. Love of self for God's sake - this is the gold mine, the mother lode. When we can look at our cracks, crevices and crustiness and know that God loves us despite that - we can live with our tensions and allow God to change us through them. We can love ourselves and other people with the love that Jesus commands, a love that is radical and transformational and allows us to get beyond pettiness to forgiveness and grace that's way above our pay grade.
Which love describes you today? What must happen or is happening to help you move from one love to the other?
The simple truth is that most of our problems, issues, and crises can be plotted on this four-point progression. Father, let this inform and challenge my friends today.