I think it would be fair to say that most of us have short sayings that help us to navigate our lives.
These expressions reflect a guiding principle that help guide us, a family, or an institution.
They have tremendous potential to influence the choices we make such as where and how we decide to invest our time, who we choose to spend our time with, and what we value. These may be small phrases, but they are powerful.
But because these expressions can become so ingrained we may not even be fully aware of them. And as a result, we are unaware of their influence.
We can absorb these sayings from a variety of sources. Sometimes we pick them up from parents or writers or sports heroes. Or maybe we see them on the Internet, advertising, or TV. We pick up the expressions and keep them because they resonate with us. They just seem to make sense or we perhaps find them inspirational. And then, over time they gradually become integrated into our thoughts and the way we perceive the world.
A saying that was part of my family culture, because my parents believed it and they taught it to us was, “if you work hard enough – you can achieve anything you put your mind to.”
Now, this simple saying ended up driving much of my family’s behavior as I was growing up, and it continued to influence my siblings and me, long after we left home and formed our own families.
We grew to believe that we had the ability to control and achieve whatever we set our mind on if we just worked hard enough.
And for a while it worked for me. I would focus on a goal, work really hard, and largely I was able to achieve whatever I had set my mind on.
But then about 8 years ago – a long winter season hit. My husband, Claudio, our three boys, and our extended families faced a series of major trials and losses. It was a dark season – where no matter how hard we set goals, tried, and applied ourselves – we simply could not stop things from unraveling or preventing the heartache and losses.
All of a sudden, the family creed about achieving whatever we put our mind to was no longer working. We were confronted by the truth that while hard work can accomplish many things – effort alone does not always guarantee success.
Because here is the thing – not every thing is in our control. Factors other than determination and hard work can influence the outcome.
God is the divine author of our lives. And so often, no matter how much we long for something and work hard to achieve it, ultimately we cannot control or guarantee the outcome or write the story exactly the way we want it to unfold.
My story is likely quite common. I think we all tend to hold onto such expressions without really being fully aware of how much they influence our thoughts, emotions and behaviours. We all use them and readily recognize them – sayings like, “Just believe it, and you can achieve it” or “Winners never quit” or “We all deserve to be happy” or “Just do it” or “There is no room for the word ‘can’t’”.
But once you recognize them, and evaluate them, you will also grow to realize, that they actually don’t apply or work 100 % of the time. And in fact, they seldom match what we deeply believe as Christians. They can draw us into idolizing things and worshiping things that are not of God. Our family saying drew me into idolizing my own goals, efforts and plans rather than trusting and relying on God’s provision, protection, and plans for my life.
I get that these sayings are attractive because we all are tempted to believe we have control, that anything is achievable, that we can ensure happy and prosperous lives, and we can prevent the heartache and trials that are bound to come to us during the hard winter seasons.
But there is one saying that we really should be paying attention to. This is a unique saying, because it is the divine creed given to us by Jesus through Scripture. It is the one creed that we should hold tight to, and that should be guiding our lives.
It is the greatest commandment. It calls us to love God with with our hearts and souls and mind and strength, and to love our neighbours. Jesus placed love at the heart of the law and the Christian faith.
When this creed -the call to love – is integrated into our hearts and minds it will begin to direct our thinking, hearts, and behaviour.
So the question becomes, “Does the Jesus Creed, and its call to love, punctuate my days?” And as writer, Parker Palmer challenged me to consider, “does my life speak with this creed?”
Lately, I have been wondering about this. Wondering about the degree to which my life is shaped and influenced by love. Wondering about how well I am loving God – with all my being, and loving all others in the way God calls me to love.
While it has always been, and always will be, a call for Christians to live out and exemplify love in their lives it has become critically important in today’s chaotic, discriminatory, judgmental, and harsh world.
Where we are called to let God’s love fill us to the point it begins to ooze out of us – spilling out into the world, and into all others, regardless of their culture, nationality, faith, gender, orientation, education, or status. For it will be through the way we love and show grace and compassion to all of our neighbours, that we will become known as Christians who let the commandment to love guide and influence their lives. The ones who give love – hands and feet and heart.