Have you ever flown Allegiant? I like to think of it as “The Little Airline that Could” because as the jet is climbing to altitude, if you listen very carefully you can hear the engines say, “I think I can, I think I can.”
The great thing about Allegiant is that it flies nonstop to smaller airports. My parents and two sisters live in the Ashville/Hendersonville area of North Carolina and Allegiant flies straight there – no change in Atlanta or Charlotte. Our oldest son and family live in Frederick, MD. Allegiant flies to Hagerstown about 20 minutes away.
And they are cheap! The ticket prices are crazy low, but then you have to pay for everything else. Like, say you want a seat. Like many airlines you’ll pay to check a bag, but you’ll also pay to use the overhead bin for a carry-on. And there are no complimentary beverages or little bags of peanuts. And take quarters in case you need to use the facilities.
Wouldn’t it be much nicer if the trip were free – free of cost, free of inconvenience, free of stress, and free of worry?
That is very much how all of life can be. We come into this world free. We learn and grow. But so much of what we do carries cost. The mental, spiritual and physical wounds we suffer in this life are many and exact costs. Some are slight, some are heavy, some are from other’s actions or accidents, and some are our own fault – our own grievous fault, as the Rite I confession puts it.
And each time we suffer those sorts of wounds we add baggage. And that baggage carries a heavy cost. As we grow up, maturity is essentially learning to put some space between stimulus and response, to not react inappropriately out of emotion, to maintain decorum.
Over time, we very naturally develop callouses on our hearts, minds and souls just as we develop them on our hands or feet. Tough. Hard. Numb. We’re able work, live, survive that way and it feels normal. By the world’s standards it is. We’re not breaking the law. We’re not hurting anyone. In a world where people so often don’t manage to live civilly it seems a victory of sorts.
Jesus says getting along isn’t good enough. Jesus says putting up with each other isn’t good enough. Jesus says avoiding altercations and keeping our cool isn’t good enough. Nor is it enough to truly “let it go.” There are philosophies in the world that teach exactly that. The Stoics of ancient Greece decided the problem was emotion itself. Other religions have come to similar conclusions.
Jesus says no. It isn’t enough to detach. We are to shift our passion from anger to love, from enmity to love, from resentment to love, from frustration to love.
It isn’t good enough because we are meant for a higher, holier purpose – the Kingdom of God. We cannot settle for less. That matters today and it matters for eternity.
Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” That means it’s not enough to avoid them. It’s not enough to tolerate them. It means we are called to reorient our hearts to see other people as he sees them. He sees their flaws. He sees their shortcomings. He sees the ways they have hurt us.
Often, love requires us to draw boundaries, to uphold accountability and enforce consequences. He’s not telling us to endure abuse. (I need to pause here and be very clear. If you or someone you know is suffering in an abusive relationship, please get help and be assured I am here to help you find that help.) And where we have to take a hard line, that’s fine. This is all about orientation.
Jesus regularly uses hyperbole to make his points, and at the very least he’s setting an extremely difficult standard that seems highly doubtful if not impossible for us to maintain. But that does not let us off the hook. We are in constant receipt of an overwhelming amount of God’s grace. He is continually forgiving us for all manner of failures and shortcomings. Jesus is calling us to be like him.
We are to live as members of his Kingdom, loving our neighbors as ourselves. So whatever the facts and circumstances may be, our hearts need to be fixed on Jesus and his Kingdom. We need to be in steady prayer for guidance in troubled times.
Think about a preschool classroom. Kids are motoring around, just learning how to walk. Just learning how to play. Just learning how to socialize. You see one child take a toy away from another child. That child starts to cry and maybe puts all his or her focus on reacquiring that toy - no matter the cost. What do you do? First you impose peace to ensure there’s no biting or pushing. Then you have a teaching moment. This is how we play. This is how we share. This is how we get help when we are upset or angry.
I can’t help but think that is in some sense how God is working with us.
This bears fruit today. Buried negative emotions, thoughts, feelings, hurts, and so forth create a very deep and insidious layer of stress that impairs our physical health as well as our emotional and spiritual health. What does stress do to your neck? Your blood pressure? Your immune system? It’s a killer. Develop this heart for God in the ways you approach people and especially the most difficult circumstances and you will improve your life on many levels and in ways you may not even realize. That’s the “good measure, pressed down and shaken together and running over.” It’s a cosmic smoothie of grace and love that heals you and you help to heal others.
Most importantly, our ultimate end is a trip that doesn’t allow any baggage. We came into this word with nothing and we will leave with nothing. And if the Kingdom of God is to be as it is, where pain and suffering are no more, neither sighing or crying, it simply cannot accept our anger, jealousy, resentments, and so on. We cannot even check our bags. There are no carry-ons. Just the love of God bringing us to the joy of life with him forever.