Do the hard thing.

Lately, life hasn’t been feeling like, well, life. There’s been too much loss and loneliness and fear and anger and exhaustion and boredom. We miss eating out and visiting friends, going to the gym, and traveling. And we miss hugs.

When I was a student in the 1980’s I did a lot of running There was once an advert for running shoe whose strap line was ‘Made to do hard things’. Implying that it was not just the shoe but the runner was made to do hard things. I can assure you running up and down the hills of Sheffield was hard!

But honestly, we’re also meant to do tender things. To be close to one another. To give and to receive understanding and comfort. To share tears and laughter. To be, at least for a moment, just a little less guarded with each other. That’s why we miss hugs. We miss life.

Medical professionals and government leaders assure us that the vaccine will save us from this restricted and frustrating life we live at present, and in important ways, I believe that they are telling us the truth.

Hopefully masks and physical distancing will become an increasingly distant memory. The daily death count will disappear from our newspapers’ front pages and stop scrolling across the bottom of our TV screens. The life we’ve been missing will return—sort of.

It’s more accurate to say that the life we had known will return. What we call ordinary life is a sort of half-life. The pandemic simply highlighted and amplified its pattern. As a result, our yearning to be saved was able to announce itself to us with visceral urgency.

When I talk about salvation here, I don’t mean that we want to be whisked away from planet earth to a faraway heavenly dwelling place. Nope. I mean we are drawn to become who we really are. In her book, ‘Dusk, Night , Dawn’, Anne Lamott says, we are ‘loving awareness with skin on’.

The reason we need saving is that we are not just love in the flesh. We are also, as Anne puts it, ‘walking personality disorders’. We are a mix of things. Anne’s pastor says that we have dual citizenship. “We have the human passport with all our biographical details and neuroses engraved on it, and the heavenly one, as the children of the divine.”

Sadly part of that ‘Human Passport’ can mean that when we are hurt we are tempted to hurt others to try and achieve some kind of solace. For a while, it can feel good to judge others and to nurture resentments. Even when we realise how lonely and grumpy we’re becoming, we can find it pretty hard to live a different way. Sadly many congregations are hamstrung in their mission because of the internal lack of forgiveness that pervades our congregations.

But you know, it might just be that the advertising campaign was right. We were made to do hard things. We were made to love.

On this planet, love looks like admitting that we are fragile and wounded. As hard as that kind of vulnerability is, it’s even tougher to do the only thing that will make us whole: forgive.

While we’re talking about forgiveness, let’s be honest that we need forgiveness for our unforgiveness. If you’re anything like me, that’s going to involve admitting that you’ve done your share of dealing with your own wounds by wounding others.

Yep, in our personal lives, we were meant to do hard things. And my experience is that salvation—feeling connected to others and being at home in my own skin—lies in doing these hard things.

But I’ve also learned that I cannot do them on my own. At least in my life, I do these hard things by cooperating with a love that is always given to me. I do not save myself.

That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

He was willing to do the hard thing. To love us because that’s who he is. And his love is what makes it possible for me to move toward being who I truly am: loving awareness with skin on.

We were made to do hard things. We were made to love.

God bless and stay safe,

Alan.

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