Archives, Biography, Pondering, Wheaton

Gritty Love

Many years ago I entered into a memorable silent retreat. During this time I was a busy college professor, loving my students, loving my church. But early on in the retreat I found my mind defaulting to two other people in my life: my husband and toddler son.

“Well, Lord, I love them, too. But after a busy day pouring out love to the world, I need time to regroup, right? And I have to prepare for the next day…” No matter which way I sought to direct my mind, my heart kept returning to the two men in my life.

A few days later I finally admitted this was not an aberrant voice, but the persistent promptings of God, I faced my beloved foe head on. “Lord, there is just not enough of me.” “Then you will have to let me dig you deeper.” “What’s that going to take?” “Trust me.”

Though I did not have the vocabulary at the time, I later discovered that this encounter with God was consistent what has long been known from the experience of the desert abbas (fathers) and ammas (mothers). The desert is a place where we face our souls’ struggle with the underlying passions that thwart our freedom to love. The barren, lonely aridity of the desert is God’s furnace of transformation, pressing toward the goal of loving others as we ourselves are loved.

As Roberta Bondi writes, “Love is a goal the way being a doctor or a minister or a mother is a goal. Love is this kind of goal for the teachers of the early church. They wished to come to the point where all their actions, thoughts and imaginings should be full of love, that they should have the disposition of love” (To Love as God Loves, 33-34).

Over the next several days I want to speak to some of these underlying passions named so clearly by these early teachers. They give us insight into the motions of our souls and their deep connection to the kind of freedom our Lord Jesus has won for us; freedom that the Holy Spirit desires to win in us.

My freedom was hard won. Priorities, however, gradually began to get flipped around in my heart. I faced the lie that completely present interaction with my intensely wired son, whom we nicknamed “Mercury,” would leave me incapacitated for the next day. I began to trust that everything that truly had to be accomplished would get done. I learned that when I really needed (not wanted) a time to rest, a break would come about without me forcing it to happen.

I recently stepped into a new fiery furnace as I continue to journey through the desert, learning how to love. The desert sand still stings as life pommels my heart. But I do agree with my divine adversary more quickly than I once did. And I can taste more freedom in spite of the grit. For that grace, I am truly grateful.

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