The Martin family is trying something new: we are beginning a discussion with our seven and three-year old around the concept of loving God and loving each other. Rather than fragment our family by dropping our kids off in a Sunday School class where they may get a coloring worksheet, watch a video and eat some Cheerios, we take Sunday mornings to engage in Sabbath together (most often at a nature park, sitting on a log, with our bare toes disrupting the minnows that splash about in the stream beneath us).
My wife and I believe that if we spend the rest of our family time together while our boys are under our roof just trying to unpack what it means to love God and love others, we will have given them a wealth of blessing to pass on.
When Jesus was asked what, of the over 600 Jewish commandments, were the most important, his answer came down to just two: Figure out how to love God and love others.
On the surface, this seems like a relatively easy couple of commandments, right? But think about it: How hard is it to love something or someone other than one’s self? If we think of the first commandment as loving the transcendent (that is, loving something beyond the earthly desires of power, pleasure, and profit), then it becomes a rather difficult proposition indeed.
How hard is it even for the religious to love something other than Mammon (the almost erotic love of money and all that money brings–stuff, luxury, freedom, indulgence, etc.)? James Smith, in his book Desiring the Kingdom, writes that we humans are primarily creatures of desire, driven by our guts (our kardia, our hearts), and that, no matter how much we may profess to the contrary, we are being shaped more by the liturgy of the mall than by that of the temple. (I unpack the idea of the worship of Mammon more fully in a previous post, “American Polytheism“). Trying to help my children understand that loving God means not loving the shiny, glittery objects that catch their eye in ten-thousand places (and, even more, not loving the “god” of desire behind those objects, the “god” of consumption) will perhaps be the most difficult task my wife and I face as parents. The “liturgy” of the mall plays everywhere they turn–on tv, movies, in magazines, on billboards, on the fashion choices of their friends, in the neighborhoods of the homes they go to play at, on the radio, in the actual mall…everywhere–and trying to counter that with a narrative of discipline, sacrifice, transcendence, mindfulness and intentionality will take everything we have as parents. The “Cult of Desire” desires to swallow my (our) children whole, with little regard to their well-being, health, psyches or souls.
And then, to try and learn how to love others? That is a challenge worthy of our Sunday mornings (and the rest of the week, as well!). How hard is it to see the “other” as someone I am to love? Particularly if that other is very different from me? How can I “step out of my skin” to see that person not as a competitor, an adversary, or an object of desire, but as one for which I am to lay my life down? That means that I must unlearn, in painful ways, my rational self-interest in order to “take up my cross” on behalf of someone else.
How much easier is it to pursue my own ends? To get a job to take care of my needs? To stand up for my rights? To fight for my freedoms? Isn’t this the stuff of the “American Dream”? It’s my money, my time, my stuff? I earned it, didn’t I? I worked hard for it, I studied long hours, I got the job, I worked overtime… I…I…I.
And yet, Jesus comes back, gently, with perhaps a bit of severe mercy in his eye, and says, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down their ‘I’ for another.” Whether you believe in Christianity or not, this paradoxical laying down of one’s life seems to work out in deeper ways than the glorified pursuit of narcissistic hedonism. But Oh, how hard it is to learn!
So, you see the task we as parents have set for ourselves? You see why we are intentional about not just dropping our kids off in a video-series Sunday School class? The task is too great and too important. Our boys’ lives and souls are at stake. This task will cost us everything, but what else are we to do?
Our motto, moving forward, is that we as a family will be known by how we love. May we be worthy of the work.