My husband told me today that I should write a book on the book of Romans. I agree wholeheartedly. I find amazing tidbits in there each time I sit down to read it, and it's so very appropriate to so many situations going on in my life all at the same time. The overwhelming message, though, is love. And that's what I keep coming back to on this page in the first place. Why? Because it's all that matters.
If you're doing 'good deeds' out of a desire to be praised, out of an internal duty to cross things off of a checklist, out of a need to look good in front of others, and you don't have love in your heart, then all the good deeds in the world are meaningless. (Okay, granted, that's in the book of Corinthians, but there are echoes of it in Romans as well.) Take chapter 14 of Romans, for instance. On the surface, it looks like a bunch of rules you can break if you want... it's about whether or not one day is more important than another, or if eating meat or vegetables is better in God's eyes. But the point that Paul is trying to make is this: whether you believe one way or the other, be convicted of it. Don't be wishy-washy. And if you encounter someone else with a different conviction, don't tell them they're wrong... that's not your place. Your place is to respect their beliefs and be a good role model. Let's say you are a carnivore and you go to eat at a vegan's house. Are you going to chastise them for their choices, or are you going to thank them for the meal and be grateful that they cared enough about you to invite you over? Or, if a close friend of yours is against drinking... are you going to invite them to a party and then serve so much alcohol that the rest of the party-goers are drunk?
"Then let us no more criticize and blame and pass judgment on one another, but rather decide (endeavor) never to put a stumbling block or an obstacle or a hindrance in the way of a brother...if your brother is being pained or his feelings hurt or if he is being injured by what you eat, then you are no longer walking in love. [You have ceased to be living and conducting yourself by the standard of love toward him.] Do not let what you eat hurt or cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died! Do not therefore let what seems good to you be considered an evil thing by someone else...Let us then definitely aim for and eagerly pursue what makes for harmony and for mutual upbuilding (edification and development) of one another." (Romans 14:13-19, AMP)
The more mindful we are of the feelings of others, the more mindful we are of our purpose here on earth. When we're so immersed in what we want, how we live, what we do... we can't get out of our heads and into the hearts of others.
I used to smoke. A lot. I loved it. I miss it. I don't think it's evil or that it's sending anyone to Hell. I think it's unhealthy, but I certainly don't judge those who make the choice to do so. Smokers are welcome at my home. They can smoke on the porch, in the yard, in my car. Why? Because I think smoking is a good choice? No, because I think investing in people is a good choice. If I sit with someone while they smoke a cigarette, and they tell me their life story, it's time well-spent, even if I spend the rest of the night coughing after they leave. I know better how I can help them in their Journey. If I say, "You can't smoke here," because I don't smoke, I might have just cut off a bond that could've been a lifelong friendship, or the chance to really make an impact on someone's life. Forcing our beliefs on others is NOT what we're here for. Loving them is.
The same is true in the opposite direction. If I like to have a glass of wine with dinner, and I've invited a recovering alcoholic to my home, am I going to drink my nightly glass of wine in front of her? Or am I going to partake of something we can both share? What might be no big deal to me could present quite the stumbling block for someone else if my focus is not in the right place. Again, it's about loving people enough to put their needs ahead of our own at each and every level. Not just when we feel like it, not just when it's convenient. At every juncture, always.
If we're really honest with ourselves, we all have our pet peeves. Whatever the peeves are, we can't let them get in the way of guiding someone else along the right route in life. Sure, that person might be the most annoying or smelly or foul-mouthed person you've ever met... but that doesn't mean that God loves him any less than He loves you. It's just one more reason for us to get out of our own heads and to try to see people the way that God does. We're all equal in His eyes. We all make mistakes, we are all flawed, we all do stupid things, we all have quirks and idiosyncrasies that drive each other crazy... but we all have one other thing in common:
He loved us enough to die for each of us.