Recently some friends of my family were hit with a need that required a lot of physical labor to be done in a short time. So they and my kids and I and some other friends got together over the course of a couple days and did a bang up job of it. And in the midst of all this work, someone described what we were doing as "a labor of love."
I mulled that over for several days. First I realized simply how true it was. It is hard to capture my surprise at this realization, but it seems akin to how shocking it was to me that after being pregnant for nine months, a baby emerged from my body -- and she actually looked like a human being. It's a real, tangible proof of an actual miracle that a has brewed for such a long time. Any time I see love expressed through me, I know it is a miracle.
Another thought arose as the Lord and I looked at this. I began to wonder, what if everything I did were a labor of love? What if I were conscious, always, of undertaking actions to express the love resident in my life? What if I simply thought about loving God with everything?
This scrapes up against something I read recently from St. Therese that keeps impacting me more and more. Basically she was differentiating between love and joy. She says that joy is what is promised us on the other side of the cross, or in the next life. But this life is for love. I'm sure I'm not doing that justice, and of course right now I can't quote it. But what struck me so profoundly is how it seems I've always mistakenly believed that love actually is joy. That if I "love" someone, it means I am feeling joy. And if there's no feeling of joy? Where can love be? But on the cross, Jesus was certainly showing the depths of His love. He didn't do it for the "joy of the moment," but for the joy that lay ahead of him. Later. There is a definite connection, but, timing.
Mothers should get this pretty well. Loving our children often means needing to correct them or train them in the midst of them complaining against us. Family life often means serving when we don't feel like it. "Give until it hurts," Mother Teresa famously said. That's love. It's common to psychologize away this reality until we've convinced ourselves that it is healthy to be selfish and seek comfort at any price, or for others to treat us as means to their selfish kingdom of comfort.
So what if everything I did were for me a labor of love? I think I would have a tremendous command of freedom and self-donation.
Another day went by with me and the Lord looking at this together. Another thought came to mind: So, what do you suppose it is that stands in the way of everything being about love of God? Ew. The answer arose with the question: idolatry. Clinging to not-God and expecting it to fill you up, even without realizing it. (You see, God's first step in healing anything is revealing it to you.)
In reality, I'm just like my children when they complain against my training because they can't see the wisdom of it or just ignore me because of how much they like what they are doing. I get the feeling that I ignore God's directives sometimes because what I'm doing is old, familiar, and known. It seems comfortable, even though it really isn't. Sometimes, in fact, I desperately want out of the old way, but it would require me to take a step (and perhaps another, and another) into hard work that will take time and effort, and put me at risk of .... discomfort! But wait, I'm already in discomfort. Doesn't wisdom tell us to take God's version of discomfort over our own? You know, maybe God's leads somewhere, like to fulfillment, instead of smack into our pit of desire where we can dump every finite thing imaginable and still have nothing but an empty pit.
After step one (God revealing the problem), we have step two: I hand the problem over to God. And I keep doing that and keep doing that, asking for His grace, His wisdom, His direction, His consolation. And He gives it. Thanks be to God. And on we go.
Living in God's love is what we have been designed for. Another name for that is heaven. We can begin to live in heaven here, when we repudiate all that is not God and embrace every person and all of creation with love because God lives in and through us. We will have joy on this earth, but it will be a joy that shines through suffering. And that, I think, is the contagion that causes faith in Christ to spread like wildfire.