Monday, July 10, 2017

Work and Love

I've always been a mix of the melancholic and choleric personalities. As I've aged I think I've flipped dominant characteristics, though. I don't brood and analyze in the same ways, nor as much as I used to, and I love the challenge of hard work. I love to feel productive. And the easiest way for me to develop a closeness with someone is to work at something with them.

Part of the Christian reality is that no matter which are our dominant traits, we all struggle until virtue is formed in us. My love for work used to be fueled by and crippled by an overwhelming sense of exclusive personal responsibility -- that everything depended on me. Many years ago, a snow storm put my town in what we call a Level Three Emergency: so much snow had fallen that no one was supposed to drive. Not even the snow plows had made it out. There I was, with my little snow shovel. After I did our sidewalk and our driveway, I felt compelled to start shoveling the street. Sometime later, an acquaintance told me he had seen me outside, and he thought "Look at that poor person out there, shoveling the street!" To him, I looked pitiful and a bit silly. But I was answering some internal prompt that told me that because the authorities had failed to meet the needs of the city, it was somehow up to me. Personally. To clean the whole street.

I got tired, and I went in, but the illustration of my response to this difficulty stayed with me.

In reality, it was a response to fears I had felt as a child when the adults in my world did not provide me with feelings of security, and I felt I needed to be the caretaker, doing my best to provide security for myself and them. Basically, work for me in those days was panic in motion.

The Lord has patiently loved me, wooed me, calmed me, and showed me His strength. And he has taught me to work with Him as with a partner, and has given me other people to work with and to enjoy. This has been how I have learned to relax and find work as a joy.

I still have the tendency to love to take on big loads. I get bored if I don't have enough challenge, and sometimes collecting big challenges is exciting, to the point where I don't discern well and say yes to too much, or I get overwhelmed and intimidated at the size of the task before me. At these times, I can lose the focus that love gives, and instead of joyfully and gratefully and freely spending myself at my work (all of which puts love into action), I focus on finishing or accomplishing, or wondering how I ended up the only choleric in my family, or other such attitudes which are prone to breeding resentment of my own human limitations, or those of others. The work becomes the master instead of the means to love and prayer, and partnering with Jesus.

I want to expand and express my love, just like something in me really wanted to clean the whole street. I know that when I clean my kitchen or do laundry, I can do it as a concrete expression of love, and it is not out of place to see this love in union with Jesus' ultimate work of love in His passion. I also know that when I call and train my family to similar acts of love, I am calling them to the same kind of union, and I need to do it with patience, gentleness, and spiritual sensitivity, not just with irritation.

But on the other hand, when I expect infinity and the grace of God to spring from my own finite and very weak capacity (or anyone else's), I am doomed to be disappointed. Ain't gonna happen, and I'm only going to reinforce my resentments. Using my own energies will wear me out; drawing on Love and asking Jesus to live and work through me will build me up. Knowing the difference between human limitation and the grace of God is of basic importance.

The key to humility is these two Bible verses together: "Apart from Me, you can do nothing" and "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." I am nothing of myself. I give all that I have to Jesus, that He may live through me as He sees fit.

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