It’s a new year. Not a major surprise – it happens, every year. The big question is: what do I do it with it?
Last year I launched a project called “21 in 21” which was a list of twenty-one endeavors to keep me moving forward as I continued my journey of healing and regaining life after my disastrous illness in 2019. My list included items such as Give 21 Gifts, Read a Book Each Week, Prepare 21 New Meals, Read a New-to-Me New Testament. All told, if I did all the items at a minimum there were 238 endeavors to be accomplished. Now, I did some fully, some not-so, and some more-so. At the end of the year I had accomplished 258 things on purpose.
It was a good project and kept me moving forward.
Oddly, it also added stress. I was constantly worried about checking off items, sometimes doing the right thing for the wrong reason. If I hadn’t given anything to a person in need, I’d go looking for a way to give. Right action, wrong motive. And a few things, like Visit 21 Churches, almost immediately flopped because I realized that it brought out the critic in me. I had no business commenting on how a church held a service unless I was ready to be a part of the whole community.
The whole thing reminded me of the Law of Moses, a performance-based code of following God. There are something like 613 distinct laws given to be followed by anyone calling themselves Jews. It was impossible for any person to pull it off and led to grief and stress and gnashing of teeth.
Which was really the point – no one can measure up by their own performance.
But along comes Jesus and says the whole law is summed up in this:
“’And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31
So the lightbulb over my head lit up and I realized my purpose for this new year of 2022: I will do two things, and two things only, all year:
1) Love God
2) Love my neighbor as myself
What exactly does that mean? Is it some mystical copout? Is it a clever way to do nothing of substance? Can it be verified, and can I be held accountable?
Let’s break it down.
1) Love God
How do you love God, an entity you cannot see or experience in the flesh? We know God has certain attributes:
- Eternal – God has always been
- Infinite – God is without limits
- Immutable – God’s nature never changes
- Truth – God is without falsehood
- Holy – God is set apart from creation
- Perfect – God has no character flaws
- Omnipresent – God is everywhere at once
- Love – God is love
- Omniscient – God knows. Everything
- Mercy – God is merciful
- Justice – God is truly just
- Omnipotent – God is powerful
- Good – God is good, all the time
If you spend some time pondering these attributes, and others, you come to understand the nature and personhood of the Creator of the universe. And once you understand who exactly you are dealing with, awe and reverence will be the natural response, and loving Him will be the outcome. You love your spouse and your children for who they are, and the same idea applies to God. He loves you, and He is worthy of your love.
You love Him with all that you have – with all your heart, which is your passion; with all your soul, which is your very being; with all your mind, which is your intellect; and with all your strength, which is your physical being. Keep your passion hot, your being moldable, your intellect searching, and your body in service. That is all you have to do, and you are there.
2) Love your neighbor
The natural result of loving God is part two of this exercise: loving your neighbor. As it says:
“If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” 1 John 4:20
Now the rubber starts to hit the road. You may stand in awe of God; you may be respectful of His attributes; you may intellectually grasp what God is made of. But if you do not love your brother, you cannot love God.
But, but, but… I don’t even like my brother/neighbor/boss let alone love them. And there’s the rub. God probably doesn’t like a lot of things about you, either. But His infinite love, combined with mercy and justice, overlooks all that. He chooses to love you, because it’s the right thing to do, it’s who He is.
So just who is this “neighbor” of which He speaks? The guy next door? Your boss at work? That blankety-blank who cut you off at the merge? Your wife?
Yes, to all. Here’s the answer to the question of “who is my neighbor?”: Everybody.
You see, just as you cannot love God without loving your neighbor, you cannot love your neighbor without loving yourself.
On your life journey you must come to terms with You. Who You are, what You think, how You fail, all the character traits that make up – You. Good and bad, it’s all who You are. And it is impossible to show love, to express love, to live love towards others without first reconciling your own self-love. This is not about narcissism – it is about this:
“Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” Luke 6:42
Ouch. That’s gonna hurt.
Once you know and understand and experience God, you can love Him. Once you know and understand and experience yourself, you can love your neighbor. The two are not mutually exclusive. It is a spiritual circle that is infinite in application.
For 2022 I am going to look at life, at what comes my way, at every experience, through the lens of Jesus’ words in Mark 12. I intend to know God better so I can love Him more, and I intend to know myself better so I can love me, and I intend to know you better so that I can love you more, maybe even approach God-level love.
2/22. Simple, yet outrageous. Succinct, yet all-encompassing.
1) Love God
2) Love my neighbor as myself
That is all I have to do in 2022.