I have a confession to make. Sometimes I do not love my neighbour as myself. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t do anything nasty or hurtful. I don’t get in a long list of arguments. I don’t lambast people with self-righteous rhetoric. I try to be kind and polite to all people. What is more, I try to teach my son these lessons. “Jesus says ‘Love our neighbours’,” I tell him. I say it. I mean it. But the truth is still the same, sometimes I don’t live it out.
I became convicted of this while reading The Pilgrim Continues on his Way. This book, about a Pilgrim walking the Russian countryside, learning about prayer, has many deep insights our how we live our Christian lives. Consider it the Russian Orthodox version of Pilgrim’s Progress. In one section of the book, the Pilgrim converses with a priest about the nature of confession. The priest hands him a ‘guide to confession’ in which the Pilgrim reads about the meaning behind Christ’s instruction to ‘Love your neighbour.’ He reads:
If I loved my neighbour as myself, as the Gospel commands, then his misfortune would grieve me, also his prosperity would bring me great joy. But on the contrary, I listen with curiosity to accounts of my neighbour’s misfortune and I am not grieved but indifferent to them and, what is more, I seem to find satisfaction in them. I do not sympathise with the failings of my brother but I judge them and publicise them. My neighbour’s welfare, honour, and happiness do not delight me as my own.
I read these words and immediately my mind when to my son’s bowling practice. See, he belongs to a competitive bowling league. Thus, I spend every Saturday morning in the bowling alley. Currently, my son is ranked number 2 in his age range, just a few points behind number 1. Each time he bowls I sit in the back, hoping, wishing, and praying that my son does well on his turn. I pray that God keep him calm and focused. I pray for strikes and spares. Then No. 1 bowler gets up to bowl. I sit in the back, hoping, wishing, and yes, praying for gutter balls. And, to be completely honest, I feel a surge of happiness when the other child doesn’t do as well as my own.
If I truly loved my neighbour as myself, shouldn’t I rejoice in another child’s high score, just as much as my son’s? The words the Pilgrim read beautifully convicted me. I write ‘beautifully,’ because this conviction did not produce shame or and self-defeat within me. In fact, it was actually the opposite. This realisation opened the door for me to explore new avenues of Jesus’ love and care. This sense of inward conviction, then, was really an invitation—Jesus invited me to move deeply into his love.
We sometimes miss just how radical Jesus’ teaching was. Loving our neighbour becomes boiled down to a mere slogan. The ‘Golden Rule’ becomes a motto to be printed on a t-shirt, meaning nothing more than “Be polite,” “Be kind,” or “Be helpful.” This misses the fullness of what Jesus says, and the truly radical life into which we are invited. When Jesus says we are to love our neighbours as ourselves (or our children!) we are being asked to completely remove ourselves from the competitive, you vs. me, get-one-over-on-your-opponent world in which we so often live. To love our neighbour, as Jesus would love them, is to be continually stretched to the extreme in how we accept, forgive, and pray for those around us.
Last Saturday, I sat in watching my son bowl. I prayed that God keep him calm and focused, that he may throw his strikes and spares, and have an overall positive day. Then his opponent got up for his turn. This time however, as I sat there, I prayed that God keep him focused as well. I hoped and wished that he too receive strikes and spares. Now, In the grand scheme of things, my son’s day of bowling didn’t change much. He is still number 2 and number 1 is number 1. There were high moments and low moments for both those boys. But what did change was the way I chose to live my life in that moment. What changed was my experience of the love of God, and the joy of expressing it. For in that moment I chose not live in a bowling alley. I chose not to live for strikes or gutter balls, but to live in the kingdom of God and allow that kingdom to transform me more deeply into a person of love.