04 Sep Picking Up The Pieces – With Love
All that remained was a lone man in his hi-vis ‘coverall’, litter picker in hand, stood amongst hundreds of small pieces of colourful paper.
Picking them up one-by-one, this looked like a job that would never be completed.
There is something striking about the aftermath of a significant event like a festival. When all the crowds, the buzz, the excitement, turns into a few lone workers, quietly manoeuvring vans, and rows of redundant portaloos that would have provided literal relief to thousands in long queues just hours earlier.
As I ‘enjoyed’ a lunchtime run through our local common, this lone man with his litter picker stood out in this clear up operation.
What exactly caused that mess in the first place? Was there not a better way to pick up these pieces? Would he really ever finish the job on his own with that single litter pick to hand?
Deeper than Gratification and Good Vibes
Despite the surplus of ‘self-help’ and pictures of perfection projected on our screens, we can still often find ourselves struggling to pick up the pieces in this messy mission of life. Why do new plans and projects often struggle to stick beyond a season?
Lasting ‘success’ and impact is neither bought by money nor sworn in by power.
Love is the answer.
But what’s love got to do with it?
The word ‘love’ may take our mind to places of romance and pleasure. Thoughts may turn to people, things, or activities that make us feel good and therefore receives our attention and dedication.
Romance and pleasure does not describe the experience as my thoughts one morning this week turned to the option of getting up, getting changed, unlocking my bike, going outside, and circling the city for an hour before work.
This ‘love’ isn’t about an easy life of instant gratification and ‘good vibes’. It goes deeper.
Detach from the Dump of Dead Dreams
Faith and hope often provide the power that pumps the pursuit of our plans and projects. Yet, of the three foundational pillars of faith, hope, and love; love, we are told, is the greatest.
Two thousand years ago the apostle Paul wrote to tell a church that love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love, Paul concluded, never ends. Therefore without love, our deeds, dedication and determination dissolve into the dump of dead dreams.
Another of Paul’s letters included in the Bible was to his friend and brother ‘Philemon’ (apparently pronounced Fy-lee-man). Philemon was also a wealthy leader of a church. Yet love, rather than money or power, was the angle of Paul’s appeal to him.
Paul described how he was grateful for Philemon’s love for ALL the saints. It is not natural to automatically ‘love’ all people – not even, or especially, the ‘saints’, believers in Christ – people you might call ‘the church’.
‘Believers’ may have the spirit of God inside, yet we’re still humans in this world. Our unique traits, flaws, mistakes and irritations still exist in this physical realm. This kind of ‘love’ Paul credits to Philemon had to be unconditional. And it gave Paul great joy and encouragement. This love was refreshing to Paul.
Paul’s ‘love letter’ appealed to Philemon to take back a former servant — ‘Onesimus’ (On-ee-see-mus) — who had wronged Philemon and ran away to escape his punishment.
While in exile in Rome, this servant met Paul who was in prison at the time. In Paul’s company, Onesimus started a relationship with God made possible through putting his faith in Jesus Christ.
Only a few decades earlier Jesus had committed the greatest act of love possible; sacrificing his pure innocent self in accepting man’s false accusations and resulting punishment of death.
In trusting in God, and taking all of our sins with him, Jesus’ death and subsequent resurrection made it possible for Onesimus, Paul — and all of us — to be truly transformed and find a true relationship with God.
This relationship God had created us to enjoy in the beginning, but has since been severed by inherited sin. This is why ‘Jesus saves’.
While Paul was keen to keep Onesimus with him, he appealed to Philemon to take him back, as someone who was no longer useless, but now useful. There was a change on the inside. This happened after Onesimus took a journey of escape and searching before he would be ready to be returned to Philemon for good.
Paul insisted that he would cover for anything Philemon had lost and was owed because of Onesimus’ actions. And Paul was confident, that in the end, Philemon would do even more than what Paul was asking.
This love pursues more than just that which is presented as positive and pleasurable. It gives away what it could benefit from keeping. It covers for any ‘owed debts’. This love can turn bad into good, useless into useful, lost into found, and temporary into permanent. It’s sum is greater than its parts. Or it’s pieces.
I write this knowing that — like the field I returned to the next day — despite efforts, there are still pieces to be picked up in my own ‘love-life’. The work in me remains incomplete.
But piece by piece, the fields are gradually returning to the condition they were created to be. As the Bible tells us, ‘God is love’. Thankfully — as for the lone worker and his litter picker — the completion of this messy mission does not depend on just me.