"Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,... pray for those who abuse you... if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same... but love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful." - Luke 27ff
I have always read that passage as meaning that my life doesn't count before God unless I am around people who make it hard for me to love them by speaking hatefully and abusing me. I felt it was lazy and cowardly to want to be with anyone who loves me and does good to me. Today, I realized that is not what it means, at all. Enemies and people who hate should be rare in one's life; but, if they turn up, Jesus is saying that one should care for them as He does.
I saw it that way because it was juxtaposed with another reading, from Matthew 9:9-13. It's the one where Matthew was called. He was despised by the Jews because he was a tax collector, seen as working against his fellow citizens by implementing the horrible tax laws of the Romans; but Jesus said to him, "Follow me."
The Pharisees came by and sneered at Jesus for eating with the tax collectors and sinners. Jesus said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.' For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners."
"I desire mercy and not sacrifice" is from Hosea 6:6. I didn't get it, myself, but this morning the light broke through. God wants us to give from our storehouse of good, whatever that 'good' might be; He does not want us to sacrifice the good He has given us for our own. By staying with people who were deliberately cruel and mean to me, I was sacrificing the possibility of good in my life. God was not asking me to give up my happiness to their mean-spirited behaviour. He just wants me to be ready to show mercy from my happiness, to share peace and joy.
It has always been difficult for me to trust that God wants me to be happy. I've always felt that happiness or joy were very dangerous, worthless emotions, lulling one into forgetting the "realities," which would happen at any time to rob one of all joy and freedom and send one's spirits crashing down. It's always seemed wiser to stay anxious and on the lookout for disaster than to allow oneself to relax and so be caught unprepared.
The trouble with that outlook is, without joy and peace in one's heart, one will certainly be unprepared to handle the inevitable shocks and distress of life.
The same kind of thought seemed to be present when the disciples complained as a woman poured very expensive ointment on Jesus' head during a visit. "Why this waste? This ointment might have been sold for a large sum, and given to the poor." But Jesus said to them, "Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me." The disciples were saying what I lived by for so many years: never indulge oneself in any way; it's wrong. People are depending upon you not to waste a thing and never to be happy, because to be happy when others are suffering is selfish and cruel. Well, of course, you can't keep that up without becoming terribly depressed. And, there again, God isn't asking for us to do without the comforts and joys He provides, but to enjoy them like children who are given good things by their Father. We are allowed to be happy. When we hurt ourselves ostensibly to prevent the deprivation of others, we are showing a lack of faith. God is able to care for all His creation. He does not depend on us for anything. Our giving and sympathy are to be undertaken as being good for us, as well as for the poor and suffering.
Trying to out-do others by suffering more is just a way to fall into the trap of pride, anyway. I do much better spiritually when my body gives out and I must stay warm and eat right and rest for hours at a time. It's very humbling.
I've had a lot of humility lately, as stress at work has triggered the ol' migraine monster, and I've spent one day of each of the last three weekends mostly sleeping. But, there again, the stress is because I'm allowing myself to be put into a bad spot by someone whose priorities and work habits are completely different from mine. As my sister reminded me today, there are no awards for letting your life be ruined by somebody else's bad behavior.
Throughout my 20s and 30s I mainlined stress. I had almost no coping skills, a chaotic home life, and married someone I felt comfortable with because life with him was similar to what I'd grown up with around my mother. Add in a very difficult job and some health issues, and I was pretty well done. In many ways, I'm now in the best time of my life: It has taken me a couple of years to let go of my chronic anxiety and begin to lighten up a little, realizing that I can, indeed, enjoy life just a bit.
The FlyLady system has really helped me. FLY can be thought of as standing for Finally Loving Yourself. It's true. Having an orderly, tidy, clean house, a comfortable place to sleep, and my clothes all ready each day still feels like an extravagant luxury to me, but I have to do it. I have to train myself to live a normal life, with a normal amount of joy and happiness. God did not give me this life to spend my days cringing in fear and dread and anxiety.