From families to friendships, neighborhoods to churches, people have disagreements about details and how things should be. In the midst of this, love (engaging the will for what is best for a person) is often forgotten. Like the teacher of the law who was “looking for a loophole,” we might wonder who qualifies as a “neighbor” (Luke 10:29, msg). The word neighbor simply refers to the one who is “nigh” (or near) you—whoever is standing in front of you.
Many years ago I was part of a church in which an upcoming vote would decide the church’s future. I asked God to show me the wiser choice, but no insight came. All I seemed to hear was “Don’t forget to love.”
I replied, “And?”
I realized I wanted an answer I could explain eloquently so I could join one side or the other. But I heard only “Don’t forget to love.” I began to see that, in the logic of God’s Kingdom, whatever the church decided to do wasn’t as important as how we went about deciding: Would we choose to love one another in the process?
That led me to ask God how I might be a force of love in that bitter situation. As people quit speaking to each other, I worked at remaining friendly with everyone. When asked for my opinion, I simply restated what I’d heard: “God’s will is for us to love each other.”
Eventually, I did make a decision, and when it was known, many people I loved stopped speaking to me. One time as I sat in wordless contemplation, praying for us all, I saw a picture of sheet music in my mind: “The Old Rugged Cross” (a hymn I had not sung for years). When more arguing began during a meeting, I tiptoed forward uninvited and began playing that hymn on the piano. No one knew I could play the piano, which added to the quieting effect. A man who hadn’t spoken to me in days came and sat on the piano bench next to me, and we talked. The crowd seemed to calm.
This was not my idea. I’m a recovering know-it-all, not a peacemaker, and so I would never have stepped out in love—except that God kept showing me the most basic and most important message: Don’t forget to love. I’ve noticed that God often does not tell us which way to go or what to do, but what to be: full of love and integrity. As was said in chapter 1, contemplation isn’t so much about “answers” as it is a way to be in the world.
I have found the Great Commandment to be so central yet so difficult that I have simplified it to these questions I ask God:
What would it look like to love you for the next ten minutes?
What would it look like to love the person in front of me for the next ten minutes?
The Spirit empowers me to do that, and then I sign up for another ten minutes. Obedience—ten minutes at a time.
You’ve been reading from When the Soul Listens by Jan Johnson. Read chapter 1 here. Jan is an author, speaker, college professor and spiritual director. Get more resources on meditation, scripture and other topic at janjohnson.com