Monday, March 10, 2014

Love, Faithfulness, and Hunger Games

Subtitled: Monday Meditations, a Lenten Discipline

Let love and faithfulness never leave you; 
bind them around your neck, 
write them on the tablet of your heart.  
Then you will win favor and a good name 
in the sight of God and man.
Proverbs 3:3-4

Bamm.  There it is is.  Straight forward.  Solid.  Practical.  It appeals to the introverted, task-oriented, linear thinking, algorithm based, life-is-a-sudoku-puzzle-to-be-solved part of my brain/personality.

Do you want favor and a good name?  Then bind yourself to love and faithfulness...

Of course, it is the same part of my brain that observes, "Yeah, people say this kind of crap all the time.  What IS love and faithfulness, first of all, and then what does that even mean, to bind them around your neck or write them on the tablet of your heart?"

When I was young I didn't care what it meant.  I just believed it - believed in it, you know?   Surely if I pursue it with all my heart, it will happen!  I mean, that's the point, right?  Giving yourself to it?  So I gave myself to the process in dewy-eyed adoration.

However, if I do not ask the question, "What does that actually look like?" in the specifics of my every day life - and genuinely take the question to God and wrestle with the answer as opposed to wildly committing myself to whatever I already think the answer is - then I can run into some very serious complications.  And I did.

For example, I ended up with the unobserved notion that favor and a good name are the proof of being loving.  This led me to the very subtle art of binding other people's opinions, acceptance, and judgment to my neck, and being faithful to that.  This kind of faithfulness, interestingly, promotes hiding, lying (to myself and/or to others), pretending, shame, enabling, and isolation.  (Notice the denial and 'forgetting' flags here?  I don't see any of that being promoted in Proverbs!)

Somewhere along the line, we can get a very distorted view of love and faithfulness; love and faithfulness can actually get attached to something that turns them into very destructive forces in our lives.

So what does it look like to love, to bind oneself to faithfulness in the way this passage encourages?  What happens if it doesn't produce favor and a good name - at least in the way one expects?  In fact what is favor from God - is it financial success?  Success in one's career?  Freedom from depression?  A sense of purpose and meaning?  A successful family or ministry or ... what?

Surely Christians, if they considered the question, could run to the classic Sunday School answer: Jesus!  Surely Jesus achieved this love/faithfulness/favor thing in his life!  He can help us understand what it means!

Okay, so, in his case, favor seemed to mean that ...

He performed miracles!
     He was also rejected by his family and hated by the church.

He healed!
      ... a smattering of the population ...
And he inspired many to believe in God!

     He was also betrayed and ultimately murdered.
But He was resurrected from the dead!  Woohoo!

Oh.  He also had his bride picked out for him by God.
     She treats him like Hosea -
     despising him,
     cheating on him,
     and generally prostituting herself to the highest bidder:

"... the Lord said to him, 'Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.'"   Hosea 1:2

Still want God to pick the person you marry???

But I digress.

"...then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man."

I don't know about you, but the favor that Jesus walked in doesn't sound so very favorable.  They don't really preach that favor in church, do they?  In fact, it puts me in mind of The Hunger Games.  May the odds be ever in your favor?  What a sick joke!

Okay, I didn't expect to go here but this is actually the point!  What are we signing up for - or being enlisted in? If we don't ask the question then we end up playing whatever game is laid out for us - and it always ends in bondage - in hell.  What does love and faithfulness actually look like?  What does it look like - not even just in general but specifically - here, now, in this situation, with this person?  And what is it going to cost me?  Because God's favor may not be an easy thing to bear.

So, what can it possibly mean to bind ourselves to love and faithfulness?

If I were married (and it turns out I am), I'd want my spouse to remember me, remember the vows he said to me, remember the love and bonds we share, and ask himself in a constant and alert fashion, "What would it look like to be faithful to her, to us, and to my own heart here, with this person, in this situation, at work or at home or on the internet?"  I would want him to be bonded to me in this way, so that I am with him wherever he goes - because I am.  What he does in secret or in public, it affects me; he does it to me.  And so I would want him to love me in all of those places, to act in love in all of those places.  I would want to be in his thoughts alongside whatever else he is thinking - not in some sick, obsessive or codependent way, but just in a we-are-connected way, we are family, we love one another.  It is the same way I would want him to think of our children, if we had them.  I would want him to consider his choices, his thoughts, his habits, his actions in light of them and in love of them as much as possible.  When you have kids at home, can you make a decision about whether you're going to go out after work as if they're not there?  Some people do.  But most people understand the kind of faithfulness having children requires.  It requires thinking about them constantly.  It means you never get a break from loving them.  For some people that can seem like bondage - and in a way it is.  But when there is love, it is not bondage.  You love for the joy set before you, as Christ did.  If there is no joy set before you, then it is not love to which you are binding yourself.

Ask yourself: What does love and faithfulness look like when you're home alone on the weekend?  When you're bored at work?  When you're frustrated, lonely, filled with shame or fear?  What does it mean to have favor in those circumstances?  Does it mean acting with integrity?  Making it through?  Breaking through? Just surviving? Something more?

Ask the question!  If you do nothing else, ask the question, and keep asking it.  Let it follow you wherever you go.  Let it challenge your every belief system.  Let it perform miracles and inspire criticism from others.  Let it crucify you.  And for the love of all things holy, let it resurrect you from the dead.

Let love and faithfulness never leave you.

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