Serving vs Being Served and the Humbling Awareness of Sin
I wrote this a couple Winters back on a road trip I took with one of my friends to visit his then-girlfriend, now-wife up in Canada.
Is it possible to love without allowing yourself to be loved? I suggested that this is one of the great struggles in my own life, and one I perceive to be common within the church, an assumption which several in the car agreed with. In a rare moment when we humble ourselves in service to another human being, we feel as though we are doing something right, but as soon as another serves us, we feel guilty or awkward, as though we should be doing something to help. I need only think to my reaction this evening as the girls cleared the table after dinner, serving us, clearing our plates, happily working while we sat and talked. I felt uncomfortable, as though their act of service somehow reflected my own failure to humble myself before those I love, my brothers and sisters in this great mystery before us.
And in many ways it is true—that feeling of failure is true. I think of myself far more often than I think of others, preferring to focus on my own place and well-being rather than sacrificing for another. I thank God that I was reminded of that fact when Angie had trust enough to confess to us her own struggle with seeking to get more out of church than she feel she puts in—pursuing her own refreshment and renewing rather than seeking to refresh and renew others.
I suggested that perhaps this is simply the nature of things, that in some seasons we will seek refreshment and in others we will seek to refresh others. Angie thought otherwise, and I found her thoughts to have more of the scent of truth than my own. She suspected that true serving and truly allowing yourself to joyfully be served are dependant states—that we are most capable of allowing ourselves to be loved when we are actively loving those around us, even in our brokenness.
For when are we anything but broken? Surely it is our truest condition, and to think ourselves anything else is an exercise in deception. This is not to say that we cannot feel joy or happiness or mirth, but I have found in my own life that my reliance on God is often dependant upon my awareness of my brokenness before him. Perhaps it is brokenness that frees us to love and to be loved and to truly experience joy in this bruised world, for it is then that we best understand the freeing power of grace. Only in the acceptance of defeat—the recognition of the futility of pretending that things are going just fine—can we be freed by Christ’s victory to live and love in spite of our sins, in spite of our struggles, set free from the enslaving myth that we must selectively project an air of spiritual progress: showing our brothers and sisters the good God is doing in our lives, but hiding from them the real sins that battle against it.
At what point did it become tacitly endorsed that redemption is supposed to make us perfect on earth, turning us into Christ rather than teaching us to reflect Christ through our still-tainted forms? Perhaps what the church needs is to rediscover the dirt that remains in us all, to relearn what love means when it comes from whores like us, to relearn the fact that we are best suited to love when we are most aware of the sinful flesh we share with all who could need us—a nature that does not disappear when Christ enters in, but will only be put to a final death when the earth is remade, and that in the meantime, it is high time we stopped hiding the weariness in our hearts and began admitting to each other that the battle against sin is real and alive in all of us, and that it is entirely ridiculous for us to try and fight it alone.