Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Life To The Full

I don't quite recall when it first started but it has to be a few years now, maybe three or four. It's a bit embarrassing really. It might happen whilst I'm out for a walk thinking of something, perhaps during a movie or a song, sometimes when I watch the news, hear a tale recounted, or I'm just reading the Bible. Some times it's only very light, other times I have to fight hard to stop it, but one thing that's certain is that it's not happening any less frequently, only more.

What I'm talking about is crying, or perhaps more accurately, 'emotional surges'. I can be doing any of the above things, and probably just about anything, and all of a sudden I feel as though I'm about to cry.

When I first noticed it happening I began to wonder what the issue was. Random thoughts about emotional stress or breakdowns started to fly by. I pondered connections about deep hurts buried within my soul, that somehow are surfacing when triggered by something I missed...or something. Not being too much of a worrier I mainly just forgot about it until, over time, I started to notice a pattern. All of the 'triggers' leading me to want to cry or just feel a burst of emotion were displays of selflessness, often extreme selflessness, and particularly conveyed a great sense of love and devotion. They were examples of people whose love drove them to things that were detrimental to themselves. As I began to realise this, it occurred to me that my 'random emotion' wasn't random, nor was it a problem. It was in fact something I can only attribute to God - the growth of compassion.

As a younger guy I have to admit to not having been a very compassionate individual. I rarely felt sympathy and expressing genuine empathy was almost impossible. I simply didn't feel anything for anyone in a compassionate sense.
In fact, compassion really didn't rate very high on my list of qualities to be attained or valued. Truth was up there, devotion too. Heroism, self-sacrifice, even report; all of these I understood and appreciated. Some more than others perhaps, and certainly some came easier than others, but compassion? Compassion I didn't rate at all.

It might sound cliche but the truth is it did come across as being sappy to me. Mercy I could understand since there was a certain valour associated with it, a power. Compassion though, I did not grasp, even if I thought I did; acknowledging that there are certain things which are just good and to be valued, even if I did not appreciate them myself; like babies. The world needs babies. I can understand their value and that babies are good, but if I never had to have anything to do with babies then that was fine with me. You know, as I write, maybe this is a male thing. Maybe males don't understand compassion just as they don't understand babies. For women babies are natural and they are wonderful, and perhaps I'm being overly stereotypical, but I think compassion is something that also comes more naturally to women. The only time I often see babies coming naturally to men is when they have their own. All of a sudden babies aren't scary alien, unintelligible beings, but they are loved, valued and appreciated to great extents. So too with compassion, until it becomes personal, compassion remains something a bit alien, under-appreciated and awkward. Hmmm, maybe I've just had my first baby!

Getting back to it then. Here I am with my emotional surges and the realisation that God has somehow managed to do a work of compassion within me. It hadn't been something natural to me and I wasn't bothered by that; as a matter of fact, when at first I started feeling 'emotional' that bothered me more. As I continued to think about all of this I had the wonderful realisation that what I was seeing in this work of compassion was one thing that had been a prayer of mine for a while - to be more like God, more like Christ. My heart had been changing, it had been developing, and such was not a random act but development according to a pattern - that of the heart of God.

Faith and walking with God is not simply about objective truth but about the heart of God. One can know truth but still lack it, for truth must be in them. There are so many things to know and think about in life and in faith yet the more I grow the more I am lead to one place - the heart of God. It is one thing to have met a person, to learn of their past and all that they have. To know what they do and what their purposes are; the goals at which they aim. Yet what is truly necessary is to know their heart. To know them at their very being, to know their nature and come to understand it. With God, the first step is to come to doing this, the second is then to give yourself to seeking it, and in seeking His very heart, to be changed by it so that one's heart becomes transformed to match His. To see the world God sees it and value the things He values. To learn His motivations and to share them.

Compassion has begun to increase in my heart and I know that it is not me. It is something else growing within me. That is the most amazing feeling in the world because it means that although many times it feels as though my faith is that which I look at outside of myself - that which I think about - it does not stop there but continues on to a point which I do not know. It is not only me looking at it, but it at me and it is grasping me just as I seek to grasp it. My faith is alive and real because I am not simply making and changing it as I grow but it is changing and making me.

Life. What is life about? What is this life to the full?

A couple of weeks ago I was at a Christian student get together and as a talking point the speaker for the evening had chosen to show a clip from the film 'The Mission' (1986; De Niro, J. Irons). I hadn't, and still haven't, seen the movie and wasn't sure what to expect and quickly tried to peg the movie.
The clip was the section of the film where De Niro's character finds his wife in adultery with his brother, whom he ends up killing. He then cannot forgive himself for the murder whilst at the same time feels the anger and pain from the betrayal of his wife and brother. The clip goes on to show how he beings to deal with it as a priest leads him in a form of penance eventually resulting in his release of the burdens - forgiveness for himself and for the others, and release from the pride that would not let him accept such at first.

From that point on he gives himself to becoming a priest and serving at the mission. Why? Surely former mercenary and reasonably well-off man could get back to his life now that he has 'gotten over' recent events? I think though that what he realised is that there is more to life than what he had. He lost his wife, and his brother, he had given up his pride and the power and control he had over people, and of course he had given up his wealth. In return what did he get? Love. Compassion. "He who has been forgiven much, loves much, but he who has been forgiven little loves little." If I might be so bold as to add a little to Scripture - ...and he who loves much has much joy and peace and their life is full.

We make life about so many things but
I believe that it is those who are closest to the heart of God who have the clearest idea of the truth. I can pursue many things in life, but I'm learning that many of those are short sighted. I know what I am aiming at now, but if was asked, "What then?" I don't know if I'd have an answer, at least, not one other than some other new idea or project. In my experience of compassion however, and my pursuit of love I have found that it is almost and end itself. If I was asked that same question I would have to answer, "Then? What then?" I seems as though I could pursue love my whole life and never stop, and always be the better for it. I would always be growing, always be being challenged, and always benefiting others. I think it would also be a means for me to always remain satisfied.

Love is indeed supreme, it fills one's life and brings much return. It might be awkward at first, but like babies you can try to avoid them your whole life, however it would only be yourself holding you back from something much bigger and better. So if you'll excuse me, I have this weird alien thingy that's looking at me and smiling and I think I'm going to try and pick it up.

God bless.