“Be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:17)
We spent our week on mission trip talking about how to live the Christian life; how to be equipped in order to be complete. We hear that we’re supposed to “fight the good fight” (1 Tim 6:12) and “run so as to win” (2 Cor 9:5), but what do you do when you’re paralyzed at the starting block? We need humility, to know who we are and to what we have been called. We need discipline, to know our destination and to train and condition ourselves for greater endurance. We need fortitude, the mental strength to trust in God beyond any hardship. We need to live in hope, always conscious of the victory that was won for us. And in the end, all our formation, our preparation, our growth in these things leads us to action: to compassionate, zealous love for God and for one another.
We can run with all the speed and strength in the world, but it will bear no fruit if it has no purpose. Why do we fight? Why do we run? Because we realize how the Lord has loved us: with boundless love, mercy, and compassion. His love pursues. It doesn’t fail. It never gives up. His zeal for us is unimaginable. And when we are truly convinced of the great love He has for each of us, we are compelled to love one another. If we truly understood HIS love, we would be zealously, fiercely compassionate for each of our brothers and sisters.
So much of our work in Laredo was for and within the Catholic community. And as great as that is, to build up those parishes in the spirit of the New Evangelization, I long to know how we could have responded to the desperate plea of the rest of the world — a world longing to catch a glimpse of the love of God. It is so easy to be compassionate for those who are similar to us, for those who are grateful for our work and affirming of our sacrifices. But what about the rest? Can we find that compassion and zeal in our hearts for those who are unimpressed by our good works?
I was in Dallas, walking the streets of downtown with some girlfriends after dinner at an upscale restaurant. As we approached a corner to cross the street, a woman started walking with us. She didn’t try to stop us or demand our time, but she wanted our attention. Could we give her money to stay at the shelter another night? It was free the first couple nights, but costs ten dollars after that, and she had only found one torn, crumpled dollar in a street grate so far that night.
“No, I’m sorry, I don’t have any cash,” replied one of my companions, her voice inflecting a fake sincerity. ”But God bless you!” she added cheerfully, hardly shifting her eyes from the light up ahead.
I’d like to tell you that I didn’t do the same. I’d like to tell you that when she froze in her steps, dejected, I stopped too. I’d like to tell you that her courage and humility was enough to convict me to be generous. I’d like to tell you that I ran back and heard her story, looked into her eyes and shown her that she is worth more than she knows.
But what killed me, what tore my heart open, was the look on her face when she saw everyone look away and heard the words, “God bless you.” It was such a mixture of hopelessness, resignation, and disgust… a disgust that I readily identified with, but for myself.
How badly I want to turn around! How much I want to give, how fiercely I want to run to her and hold her hands in mine, to give her whatever she asks and assure her that the Lord provides in generous, abundant ways. That His grace is sufficient for any weakness, that His peace is greater than any trial, and that the hope we have in Him goes beyond the needs and desires of this world. How much I want to pray with her, to hold her heart in mine, to offer up her struggles in solidarity with my own and lay them at the throne of God. How badly I desire to love her.
But we walked on that night. I was ashamed, humiliated and disgusted by my own inability to love. I was embarrassed to have rejected and abandoned that woman, whoever she was, because I knew I had turned my back on Christ in her.
I have faith that the Lord is stronger than my weakness, and I trust that my failure that night will not bear weight on her salvation. But I have felt how heavy the burden of rejecting another person, of giving her reason to doubt the Lord’s goodness and to be disgusted at the thought of His name.
Yes, it was complicated. Yes, we had places to go. No, I didn’t have much to give her anyway. But when I ask the Lord what it means to be zealously compassionate, her face replays in my mind.
“God bless you.” But we did nothing.
This past week on mission trip, I began to see again the depth of God’s goodness. We are incredibly blessed to know that He loves us. But we are more blessed, by grace, to participate in His work and to bless others. Through our service, we made manifest the love of God. We brought love to life through our action. We didn’t just say, “God bless you,” but we let Him use us to do so.
Truly, we loved that community. We gave everything to those we may never see again… and what a testament to the love of God! Unrestrained generosity, unmatched love. Our effort, our everything, poured out to be a sign of God’s prodigal love for us all: undeserved, surpassing expectation, and productive. There is so much greatness and humility in planting a garden you will never enjoy, building a shed you will never be delighted to use, or preparing a space in which you will never pause to pray. The surge of gratitude from the people whom we served will be directed to us, but also to the Lord. He asks our faithfulness and our work… that what we do and who we are might be seen as a gift from Him, that others might recognize God in our giving, and that they will be blessed — not by word, but by deed.
We practice humility, we strive for discipline, we endure with fortitude, and we live in hope. But if our hearts are not inclined to love — if we are unmoved by the compassion of our zealous and faithful God — we are not a people that will bear fruit.
Be equipped for every good work. Be transformed by the unrelenting love of God. Be transformed by HIS compassionate zeal. Be equipped to work, to move, and to make the love of God a tangible reality. Trust in His goodness — for “as God has so loved us, so we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:11) …for as we understand how God has loved us, so we also will be compelled with compassionate zeal to love one another.