I do not love my neighbor.
In fact, my interactions with my neighbors looks a little more like this:
“For not only am I unable to lay down my life for his sake (according to the gospel), but I do not even sacrifice my happiness, well-being, and peace for the good of my neighbor. If I did love him as myself, as the gospel bids, his misfortune would distress me also, his happiness would bring delight to me too. But on the contrary, I listen to curious, unhappy stories about my neighbor and I am not distressed; I remain quite undisturbed, or what is worse still, I find a sort of pleasure in them…. His well-being, honor and happiness do not delight me as my own…What is more, they subtly arouse in me feelings of envy or contempt.” ThePilgrim Continues His Way
It’s a game that I’ve perfected: the comparison contest. More often than not, when I look at someone I compare myself to how they reflect on me. Am I prettier, smarter, more exciting? If I am, then my pride is bolstered and I continue on my merry way. If I don’t measure up, jealousy, envy, and self-loathing take hold, gripped in green.
There’s something keeping me from connecting their well-being with my own. Their victories with my own. I can only see darkly. I can only see me.
When I look at others, I see my own junk and problems and preconceptions reflected back. The focus is on myself. Not what they’re really going through, not who they really are. Just who I’ve made them to be, someone to pity or someone to envy, when compared against myself. That’s dehumanizing. That is not life-giving or loving. I’ve commodified them and myself. I’ve made coming out on top of this shallow ranking the ultimate goal. Not real connection. Not love.
We all know the feeling to some extent. We all know the strivings and grasping of our egos, our possessions, our time. The selfishness that keeps us from loving our neighbors. The reason we need to have discussions about what it means to be in solidarity with the poor. The reason, I believe, we even have poor in this world.
A while ago I read an essay analyzing the infamous-wedding-love passage in 1st Corinthians. You know the verses I’m talking about, the clanging cymbals, love is patient, love is kind one that ends with faith, hope, love, and “I do.”
In these verses, there is a chunk of text that talks about the incompleteness of the love we experience now.
It says, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13: 11-12
I always thought this verse was about seeing God face to face. Or seeing ourselves as we truly are—a reflection of God’s grace and love and beauty.
But, as Madison Smartt Bell pointed out in his marvelous essay, A Love Supreme in the book Joyful Noise, this is a passage about loving others. Love doesn’t happen in a vacuum. These exhortations to serve in love, to prophecy in love, to teach in love are for the benefit of our neighbors. We are called to be patient and kind and slow to anger with EACH OTHER.
So why would this future face-to-face exclude our neighbors? What if it’s our neighbors, not just God or ourselves, who we will one day see so clearly?
“When a glass is perfectly transparent it does not reflect at all; it leaves one openly face-to-face with those on the other side.” Madison Smartt Bell, Joyful Noise
Those on the other side are the people all around us. The people we do a pretty lousy job at loving and sacrificing our happiness, privacy, peace, time, money, or parking spaces for.
People say that humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less. I believe that is what Paul is describing in 1 Corinthians 13. A love and attention that does not reflect back to ourselves. One day we will see each other with God’s eyes. We won’t just see ourselves.
But right now, this hour, this minute, this life, I’m trapped in it. This dark self-prison. These comparisons.
It gets worse with body image for me, but that’s not it. It’s everything. Am I more athletic? Do I have a better sounding job? Did I make a better joke? And all of this is going in my head instead of LISTENING to whomever it is I’m talking to. It’s sick. I am trapped in this prison of myself.
But I want FREEDOM from this self-obsession. One of my favorite quotes comes from Rumi, who says, “You become bewildered; then suddenly Love comes saying, ‘I will deliver you this instant from yourself.'”
Love, deliver me from myself. I believe that is what you promise, Jesus. Living water. Forgiveness. A place where strivings cease.
That is true salvation. Freedom and forgiveness of sins, but also deliverance from ourselves.
Please open my eyes to others. Their hopes and dreams and pain that is completely unrelated to me. Break the scale. The measurement. The comparison. Be my true hope and portion.
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror, gripped in green; but one day we shall see face-to-face in His Kingdom, gripped with grace.