“The great thing is to prevent his doing anything. As long as he does not convert it into action, it does not matter how much he thinks about this new repentance. Let the little brute wallow in it. Let him, if he has any bent that way, write a book about it; that is often an excellent way of sterilising the seeds which the Enemy plants in a human soul. Let him do anything but act. No amount of piety in his imagination and affections will harm us if we can keep it out of his will. As one of the humans has said, active habits are strengthened by repetition but passive ones are weakened. The more often he feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act, and, in the long run, the less he will be able to feel.”
Your affectionate uncle,
I remember his eyes the clearest.
They were dark, scowling, and said I had pain coming.
Last night I woke from a dream of facing the playground bully I feared over 30 years ago. He wasn’t the only one I’d face, but he was the first, the first to send my heart racing, my mind scanning for whatever I’d done to deserve this singling out. The attention he called to his domination was as painful in the dream as it had been at my small Christian school. The shock of it, the crippling fear of all the eyes on me completely outweighed the injustice of his anger.
And with no adults around, every kid in the grassy lunch area waited to see what I’d do. The dream brought it all back perfectly preserved, packed away with the animating reactions, the old jagged terror exactly the same. His taunt convicts me again today.
“Whatcha gonna do?”
The undeniable truth had rung and reverberated inside me: there was no way out of this without much suffering.
And this morning it’s a potent reminder: there are many things to which God calls us every day that will require some suffering. To love Him and others as ourselves. To treat others as we want to be treated. To seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him. To act in defense of the defenseless. To offer help to the hurting, disadvantaged and foreigner in our midst. These make up the most important things we have to do today. And they are all the same thing requiring the same thing: a commitment to accept and even embrace the inevitable suffering they will require.
The bullies can be opposed with kindness. But when we don’t heed that call, we slowly become deaf, our effectiveness becomes dulled, and our hearts harden.
With every bully, we have to oppose them with kindness, a love that’s stronger than their fear and rage. Every day the question is posed again: will we now do what we know we must? Will we resist, deny, wait, excuse, reconsider, protest, confuse, delay, distract, misread, ponder, challenge, evade, escape…
Or will we act?
I can’t deny I feel Ann’s book working on me still. Even through the recent election, I’m still thinking and fighting to integrate what it’s taught me, to allow it into my life. It’s a big undertaking, and the change is profound. I see two paths lie ahead. One is a move toward life. To do otherwise is to pursue death.
We have only to pursue that which we know to be true. Yet so often we don’t do what we must because we fear suffering. We act in self-preservation. This I know: the longer I avoid doing what I know in my head is right, the sooner my heart will stop feeling what is right. And my mind, my precious mind I protect and cherish above all else, will close.
Can I forfeit my biggest idol to truly live?
There’s a verse I remember my mom teaching me in childhood: “If you know these things, happy are you if you do them.” To do what is necessary, what is better for someone else, that is the goal. To make someone else’s life better with love.
Children naturally love to do this. But do we listen? They are not second-class citizens in the kingdom of God. They are first class because they know the secret to love. The poor, weak and needy are not second-class citizens in the kingdom. They are first class because they have experienced the secret too. Every disadvantaged person knows what it is to be afraid, to be on the outside. They know something about being bullied and about the importance of giving to the needs of others. They’ve felt it personally.
That experience forms my beliefs about how to write and sell books of a higher purpose. Instead of the typical self-interested work and self-promotion, I think if we’d return to the essence of love, writing and sharing words could be a way to escape bullies and return to a childlike love of others. Having been an outcast, a poor one, a weak one in need, showing the marginalized how to be empowered and win others’ hearts, this is what our books could be.
There are always good reasons to sell out. But don’t they all have to do with giving in to fear? We fear others having more or knowing this and that and we don’t. But if we could know how kindness defeats fear, we’d have something they didn’t, a knowledge and wisdom of a mindset that liberates and frees us to truly live. If we’d focus on this love against all bullying fear, this is what would become unique about us, defining our passion and loves, and connecting them naturally with others’ needs.
Isn’t this the secret to true success? Being kind to others, even when they’re mean? Applying your natural childlike passion to make others lives happier, however you do that best? However brings you the most joy? Didn’t we know this before the world stole it, that this is our true work?
I know, in my single-mindedness to escape fear, I’ve turned writing into an idol. I’ve allowed it to keep me from what I should be doing in the world, turned it into a retreat from the world and a fighting weapon instead of a cup of water to ease the suffering of those around me, even those closest to me.
And even in this confession, I know it only has so much power to convict me to change. I won’t stop writing because I can’t, but will I do the hard thing necessary to join my true life and make the most of my opportunities?
Will I use the fresh conviction I’ve experienced this time? Time will tell. The season of thanksgiving is here. Will I focus on my true work and love despite what suffering I may face, even the small injustice of politicized talk? Is it too much to ask? Can I allow being right to slip from my hand so I can pick up being love?
Every moment is a crossroads. Will I let fear bully me, or will I meet it with my conviction that kindness is Jesus’ way? Every minute is another decision. Which way will we go? The paths diverge and we must take one or the other. One leads to life. The other…
There may be no way out of this without much suffering.
So be it. Will you take the broken way anyway?
Will we now do what we know we must?
For the higher purpose…?
a very humbled writer