It was a perfect spring morning in May just a little over five years ago. The day we had planned and prepared for months in advance, I was standing in a chapel filled with people who I loved and cared about, right on the edge of married life. The pastor who was marrying us looked at us both after reading the Bible’s familiar words about marriage and said,
“These words are not complex or hard to understand. They’re just difficult to live.”
How those words have rung in my head and in my heart over the last five years. When my selfishness butts up against David’s need, when my desire for my own way and a me-first attitude wraps its grasping hand around my neck, when fear and a desire for control begin to clench my fists shut.
It’s easier to analyze and rationalize than it is to obey. That language is familiar to me. “Surely he didn’t mean in this situation. Surely he didn’t mean when I am right!”
I read those news headlines and the tears prick my eyes while I look at that daddy trying to lift his baby to safety and I imagine someone saying “No, sir. No safety for your baby. There must be somewhere else your baby can be safe. But not here.” I sat in the rocking chair with my own sleeping baby in my arms and whispered quiet, “What are you doing to my heart?”
I remember watching the news once on an old TV while I held my newborn baby in my arms. For the first time in my life, I felt the way panic can sweep over you and jar you like an icy cold wave slaps you in the mouth so you sputter and cough yourself sore. And then I stopped watching the news. I scrolled right past it. I insulated myself from other people’s pain, from the brokenness of the world, because being awash with panic and fear and that crippling helplessness was just too much as a new mother. I literally could not cope with the knowledge that this was the world that I had to offer my children.
And then several months ago, the Lord started whispering invitations. Gently nudging me toward something so tiny I can’t even call it activism but so much bigger than my previous avoidance. Can I tell you something? Can I tell you about what changed my heart? It was stories. It was hearing about how deeply other people cared. It was seeing the gospel light shine in the lives of other people who weren’t afraid to look brokenness straight in the face and love anyway. Be Jesus anyway. Live the abundant life anyway. I remember praying again and again, I want to care, please make me care like you do, but God, I’m so afraid. I’m so afraid.
Can I tell you something else, dear friend?
Somewhere between folding laundry and caring for my kids and commenting to my husband that I don’t want to have any more kids because, “two feels more manageable in a refugee situation.” Love is there. Casting out fear. Over and over again.
Friends, we have to come to a point where we are willing to accept that Jesus really did mean what he said. God’s word is not unclear on the position we as believers should take towards the refugee and stranger. To the broken and the outcast. Towards the one who needs. I don’t remember Jesus rebuking people for showing too much mercy, for being too passionate in their pursuit of godly justice, or for loving too much.
God’s words on the subject aren’t complex or hard to understand. They’re just hard to live.
When we’re tempted to say, “Surely he doesn’t mean those people.” “He wasn’t talking about people who hate you.” or “Would you put your children in that kind of danger?” we can look to Jesus’ life and see the way he loved, the way he corrected, and the way he had compassion, even when it cost him. Especially when it cost him.
Dear friends, isn’t our story one of rescued refugees? Of welcomed strangers? Of fear-defying, self-sacrificing love?
As this situation weighs on my heart, as I rock my baby and ask God, What does obedience look like? I keep hearing that gentle invitation– that quiet but firm question: Will you be a Christian first or a mother first? Will you follow Jesus first or your desire for self-preservation and safety? Will you choose self-centered avoidance or cross-shaped engagement? Is your first allegiance to my kingdom or to a flag?
My point, dear friends, is that at the moment when loving and living in the way of Jesus becomes risky, when it becomes tempting to rationalize and argue about what exactly Jesus meant, that right at that exact moment, we might be standing on the edge of abundant life.