I grew up in a family that kept to itself. Our relationships with outsiders were mainly casual; we children were cautioned against anything deeper. People will take more than they give and might even reject you in the end, we learned. Be friendly, but always maintain some distance. Today, as an adult, I’m part of a new family: the church. I belong with brothers and sisters that I’m called to love and honor above myself. Yet the deeply ingrained childhood lessons repeat and, at times, appear to ring true: People are takers, and loving them demands more than I have or care to give.
Unfortunately, living in Christian community sometimes corroborates these old messages. There are needy members within the household of faith. These people take up space in my thoughts, my phone, and the chairs around my kitchen table. From my perspective, I’m constantly checking on, meeting with, praying for, forgiving, encouraging, challenging, and feeding people whose responses don’t always deliver the fruit I want for my labor. I’ve poured time and resources into people whose affections for me (or for Christ) have grown cold. Some have misjudged my intentions toward them, some have made damaging faith decisions, and others battle yet continue to lose to the same unrelenting sins. I’ve left small-group meetings and church services feeling discouraged and fighting a desire to pull away.
Perhaps I can be friendly at a distance? Maybe you’ve asked yourself the same question. Loving your neighbor as yourself is a hard practice. We talk of the polarization of the broader American church—congregations across the country that are divided by faith, creed, color, and politics. Yet many of us are disconnected from people who are not across the country but across the pew. The command to love and serve—not merely tolerate—each other requires more commitment and sacrifice than we care to give, and so we do the polite minimum from afar.
The seasons of Lent and Easter bring thoughts of surrender and sacrifice. This year, as I consider the ultimate act of self-giving—the one that won my justification—I’m surprised to find it speaking to this heart that struggles to love and serve others.