A father in a hurry, taking his 8-year-old son to school, made a turn at a red light, where it wasn’t allowed. “Uh-oh, I just made an illegal turn!” he said. “That’s OK, Dad,” his son replied. “The police car right behind us did the same thing.”
There must be rules to follow. Don’t steal. Don’t lie or deceive. Stop getting angry. These are rules, or perhaps they are more like obvious best behavior or practices that people do.
Parents make rule they don’t even know they’re making until a child asks them why they have to go to bed at 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. That’s when we realize we’re making rules. Parents may not even know they’re making rules when they tell their children they can’t talk back. “Why?” they ask. “Ahh, because it’s a rule.” When questioned, we suddenly understand we are deep in the rulemaking game, and there is often nobody but ourselves—perhaps our partner—to back us up. It even gets tougher when they get older….
Who decides these and many, many others are the rules in one’s home? The parents? To what higher authority can we turn to show we have the right to make them? None, not really. We could say God every time but it’s acceptable for only certain rules—no everything. Sometimes, rule-making’s a lonely life. But it’s a necessary right to make rules, and a sacred responsibility to make good rules.
Scripture has no problem giving rules. I’m not even talking about commandments or statutes, such as you shall have no other gods before me or remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, what we might call big rules. Everyday rules abound throughout the Bible. We heard a bunch of them: speak the truth; do not let the sun go down on your anger; give up stealing—to thieves; don’t say evil stuff. But there are plenty of others.
“A gossip reveals secrets; do not associate with one.” “Do not love sleep, or else you will come to poverty.” “Drive out a scoffer, and strife goes out. Quarreling and abuse will cease.” Those are wonderful, biblical rules set in proverb form.
I’m sure there are many important rules you have come to rely on, though you may not even know it. If we’ve lived long enough, we’ve worked out some of the kinks in our system. Of course, each of us still has a long way to go.
We’ve learned not to compare our life with others; we’re on different journeys. We know we’re supposed to cut down on TV time. It’s important to give people a chance. Turn off the light when you leave the room. Admit to mistakes and learn from them. Don’t put your left elbow on the kitchen table at mealtime.
Those are good ones. I also put the toothpaste cap back on after every use. I’m pretty good at making my bed each morning. I definitely need to improve on my keeping to the speed limit—we’ve been known to make up for lack of time on the road. Not good. I also need to get back to exercising!
Don’t give up on making good rules for yourself. Return to following them. Let your life get more organized and calmer by accepting the Lord’s teaching given through scripture and your wisdom.
And then learn to go beyond mere rules.
In the film “Grand Canyon,” an immigration attorney breaks out of a traffic jam and attempts to bypass it. His route takes him along streets that seem progressively darker and more deserted. Then the predictable nightmare: the man’s fancy sports car stalls on one of those alarming streets whose teenage guardians wear expensive sneakers and carry guns.
He does manage to phone for a tow truck, but before it arrives five young toughs surround the attorney’s disabled car and threaten him with considerable bodily harm. Just in time, the tow truck shows up and its driver, an earnest, genial man, begins to hook up the sports car. The group protests. So, the driver takes the group leader aside and attempts a five-sentence reorientation to the way things are; “Man,” he says, “the world ain’t supposed to work like this. Maybe you don’t know that, but this ain’t the way it’s supposed to be. I’m supposed to be able to do my job without asking you if I can. And the dude is supposed to be able to wait with his car without you rippin’ him off. Everything’s supposed to be different than what it is here.”
From our pew seats this morning, that sounds reasonable, though how well it would go over in the real world, I’m not sure.
Sometimes rules don’t cut it. What I mean is our tow truck hero doesn’t tell the other fellow don’t do this or don’t do that. He doesn’t tell him to follow the rule you shall not rob or steal or covet a man’s sweet ride. He doesn’t say you shall not murder.
I can tell you for sure making rules in the real world for those guys would not have worked. What changes someone is meeting them eye to eye,
speaking truth with courage, grace. Being real. When things are really important we need to be able to go beyond rule-setting.
This is what our scripture reading does. By the time it’s done, we’re told to get past rules and aspire to live the greatest of all ideals—love.
You know, just because living in love is one of if not the most high-flying ideal ever conceived, it doesn’t make it any less necessary than earnest regulations. Think about it: Would you want to live in a world or belong to a religious faith where you weren’t told to live at the furthest reach of the spirit and possibility? Why would anyone settle for something less? I wouldn’t want my religion not to tell me I need to live in love. Aspiring is inspiring.
The thing is this isn’t just about living in love for others. Living in love with those closest to us isn’t a piece of cake either. Often this is where the rubber hits the road.
Someone has said, we spend our youth asking, “How do I find love?” and midlife asking “How do I get it back?” Anyone in a relationship or who plans on being in one needs to know how to keep love alive over the long term. We need to keep living in love with our loved ones, especially spouses and partners.
It’s not easy. In the first year of marriages couples score like over 85% happiness or satisfaction. By the seventh year, it’s under 50%. Something like that. I think you understand what we’re talking about here.
It may sound mundane or trivial but the truth is we can get, well, bored with each other. Early on, when a couple can finish each other’s sentences it’s romantic. But over time “predictable” is a huge negative. Do you want to hear something we would consider crazy? Sure you do. Arranged marriages start out less happy, but after ten years, they’re happier than love marriages. And they stay that way.
Why is that, you ask? What’s the secret behind the long-term success of arranged marriages? It’s easy: they have to work at it. Think of it this way: You don’t know someone else much. You’ve been arranged to, what, not to sit next to each other on a six-hour plane ride but a sixty-year life ride. They have to work on their marriage. They don’t get to passively rely on “magic” and intense emotion. They are required to spend a lot of time thinking about how to make it work, how to make the other one like them, how to make themselves likable and even lovable.
Of course, that is this is what we do in courtship too, except that in arranged marriage the goal is to figure out how to be married, not whether to marry.
We live in love by working on it. Be willing to put extra effort into your most important relationships. Don’t put them on auto-pilot. Get your hands back on the wheel and fly the thing yourself. Don’t rely on magic, instead make some magic. It’s under your control. Renew your spirit toward your spouse or partner, your children or parents. Renew the interest we all have in loving someone and being loved in turn.
We’re never going to change everything we find wrong in someone else. That’s why so many people have recurring problems. They think this time they’re going to change the other person. The fix is going to happen, and they’ll live happier ever after. Yeah, well, that’s not where you want to spend your energy.
Don’t target your partner or beloved other. We shouldn’t focus on where they’ve gone wrong. Instead focus on what they do well. Since you’re not going to change them by focusing on their negative—and the truth is it’s doubtful how much we’ve change when they focused on our negatives—what’s left? That’s right: their good stuff.
Increasing the good is much better than trying to decrease the bad. Living in love toward someone is about seeing their good and keeping that stuff in front of your eyes so that it blocks out just about all the other stuff that you’re not that happy with.
You gotta give them a break. Let them off the mat of your critique. Place them back on a pedestal. They may not be perfect but they’re probably just as amazing and awesome in those areas you first thought about them.
Living in love is a continual practice, and it covers the entirety of our lives, everyone we know. When a good friend acts inconsiderately when she’s having a bad day, remember, nobody’s perfect. Let the incident slide. If you do mention it, don’t make this one-time slight into a big deal. Give your friend a break—forgive the lapse.
Your mother or father-in-law is needy and demanding. Keep setting kind but firm boundaries so over time you can reach palatable compromises. Keep your patience. Have mercy on the insecurities showing through her actions and words. Don’t get run over but keep the faith that your living in love will be blessed by the Lord.
While we can never love as fully as Christ loved, we should aspire to grow toward it. When we live in love, we will love Christ more. When we walk in love, Christ will show us more of his love.
Can the church say Amen?