Hello all! Three sentence introduction of myself: my name is Julia, and I’m an American from the state of Ohio, a place where you probably have no reason to go and would probably be bored if you did. I’m currently doing a three-month internship with the Vineyard church in Belfast, and I have the privilege to help the Foyle Vineyard on occasion as well. I like both cats and dogs, I take my tea with milk (no sugar), and I currently volunteer at this great Belfast organization called Storehouse.
Storehouse is a dynamic place where the vulnerable in our city are welcomed in. Their names are learned, their stories are heard, and then, if we can, their needs are met; we hand out food bags, clothes, and furniture to hundreds of people each month. Most importantly, Storehouse was birthed out of the church, so we are able to call our gifts what they are; an outflowing of the love our Father has for them. Sometimes showing this love is easy and really fun. Sometimes it is ridiculously hard.
I volunteer at Storehouse every Monday and Wednesday. This week was busy, and I lost count of how many people I talked with. Most of them were wonderful, caring people with stories that broke my heart. One of them had one of those stories, but when I asked him how his year had been, he chose to snap at me instead of share it. “You want me to tell you my life story? What am I, in counseling?” he asked gruffly. “I don’t want to talk about it." He stared me down like I was something he found stuck to his shoe.
I immediately blushed, and I avoided eye-contact as I helped the man find furniture for his new flat. I didn’t mind that he wanted to be private, but I felt ashamed and I didn’t know why. Was it something I did?
I wish I could say that this didn’t affect me or that I was able to brush it off, but that’s not true. I felt exhausted and sick the rest of the day, heavy with a burden I hadn’t tried to pick up. And I came to a conclusion that I’ve heard so many times before: loving people is dangerous. It hurts sometimes. When you love someone that loves you back, it is the most rewarding thing in the world. But sometimes you give a lot, and you get yelled at in return. And yet we are still called to love.
I’ve been thinking recently about what Jesus meant in Matthew 5:43-48 when he said to love our enemies. I always imagined two soldiers in war, and maybe in a convoluted way that's how it is. Maybe part of the kingdom of God is that we are meant to love tenaciously in a world that is armed with anger and bitterness and unforgiveness, and to still serve them with joy no matter what they shout at us. God loved that man deeply. I choose to believe that there was a war raging inside that man, and that by serving him despite my own woundedness, God was able to chip away at his defenses. That man was experiencing the chains of hurt, anger, and bitterness, and in that situation he was much more wounded than I was. He needed the love of God. He needed the love of God through me.
In the last verse of Matthew chapter 5, Jesus gives us this lofty goal: “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” In the context of what he said in the previous verses, I think he's telling us not to be lazy with our love. It is easy to love those who love us, but are we willing to follow Jesus along the path of thankless love? He loved me long before I learned to love him back, and even now I barely acknowledge a fraction of all the love he shows me. Am I willing to follow him into that discomfort, that battle zone? Because he does invite us all into that same adventure; pulling the world into his arms, one act of thankless love at a time.