Taking Care

Do you enjoy taking care of things? Big things, small things, maybe things no one else will ever notice. Like folding all the towels carefully, so they line up neatly on the shelf in the linen closet. Arranging all the spoons in the silverware drawer or using the freshest ingredients for the soup you’re serving your family. Maybe they will taste the extra care you’ve put into to the soup, but maybe not.

Taking care of a person, animal, place, or thing is a way of loving them through our actions, offering kindness and care that we hope will add something good to their day. The thing we do may be quite small—a smile, a laugh, a touch of the hand—or it might be something bigger and more critical, such as helping someone find an answer they need just when they need it most. Whatever it may be, we don’t do it because we have to; we do it because we want to. Because that’s what love asks of us. We discover that when we act in accord with those loving leadings, we feel blessed and loved ourselves.

When we take care of things or places, our care often involves putting things in right order, cleaning something that needed it, perhaps clearing away old growth and tucking our gardens in for the winter. I recently changed the nine-foot fluorescent bulbs in my garage; that fits into this category (I probably looked very silly doing it, but it felt good when it was done). In this sense, taking care is a way we love and feel grateful for what we have been given, and we act in harmony with God’s principles as we appreciate and preserve that place or thing. There’s a kind of deep respect, even reverence, that comes when we lovingly care for what we have.

I’ve noticed that as I’ve gotten older, I’ve enjoyed “taking care” of things more. Today I have more time for puttering around the house—doing small things with great love—but not that long ago, when my kids were small, there was much to take care of and not much time to do it. I loved helping with homework and cooking dinners and spraying mounds of Crazy Foam into little waiting hands in the bathtub, but there was always so much more to do, I felt I would never catch up. It created pressure—lots of “have tos”—and some things just didn’t get done very often—things less important than children, like trimming the hedges or straightening the garage or repairing a fence—those things sometimes fell by the wayside. They just weren’t high enough on my priorities list. And I didn’t feel particularly grateful for them then.

But life has its seasons and those little hands mysteriously and all-too-soon grew into big ones, capable of managing their own lives. Today my time around the house now is largely my own—depending on how demanding Gloria feels like being on a given day–and the once long list of people and things I cared for has grown shorter. With my parents gone and my kids all grown, the love continues, of course, but the daily care-taking tasks are done.

Sometimes that transition is a hard one for us. As the people we love grow and change, our roles may change too. We often exchange our active role for a less-involved one, where we offer encouragement, a sounding board, and occasional tips and suggestions—if asked—but not so much the close involvement we once had. That’s as it should be—and it’s what we all did as we reached adulthood—but whether we are parents or family members or friends of the one doing the changing, it asks us to adjust our care in a big way. We respect and encourage their growing, and that means our care allows space and trust for their own leadings. It’s often not easy—especially if we see them making mistakes. But Instead of fixing their dinners and washing their clothes, now “taking care” means less tangible but perhaps even more important things like having faith in them, loving them, holding them in God’s light, and being there—more as a shoulder than a sage—when times are hard. The form of our caretaking changes, but at the heart of it all, it is still about love.

I think of Brother Lawrence, a humble monk in 17th century France who as a young man had a sudden realization of God’s goodness and love that was so powerful it never left him. He was only 16 when he saw a bare tree in winter, and suddenly his mind was filled with a beautiful image of that same tree, full of leaves and fruit in summer. He saw this blossoming as evidence of God’s all-encompassing love for us, working in grace across time. He saw that God’s intention is for our lives to blossom in love. His heart was changed; and, because his heart was changed, his mind and his life were changed too. He entered a monastery with the intention that for the whole rest of his life, he would simply love God as best he could—it was his response of love, and care, and gratitude. He did his best each day to keep his mind on God and simply enjoy God’s company. In his book, The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence writes

“…[people] invent means and methods of coming at God’s love, they learn rules and set up devices to remind them of that love, and it seems like a world of trouble to bring oneself into the consciousness of God’s presence. Yet it might be so simple. Is it not quicker and easier just to do our common business wholly for the love of him?

“Nor is it needful that we should have great things to do. . . We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I … worship before him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.”

That’s a beautiful and powerful idea—to let our love for God be the guiding force in all we do, for ourselves, our homes, our families, and our meeting. When loving God is our purpose and intent, our efforts and our relationships simply have to blossom.

Here’s how the psalmist describes in our Old Testament reading those who have learned to stay in touch with God at the center of their lives (you can hear the blossoming):

“Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”

Taste and see that the Lord is good, the psalmist writes. When it comes to taking care, it’s not about how much we do or how hard we try but about the joy that comes from being in sync with God. Our part is simply to open our hearts and share what God wants to give, to let ourselves be led so God can love the world through us. It’s a total work of grace, and our job is a simple and joyful one. When we begin to let God take tender care of us, we discover a source of unshakable peace and security that is far beyond anything this world can provide.

In our New Testament reading today, we heard a section from the First Epistle of John, which was likely written in the city of Ephesus, 60 to 80 years after Jesus’ death. The letter encourages us to recognize and understand the evidence of God’s presence in our lives, the blossoming that happens when we love and trust, encourage and care for one another.

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. …Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love."

So many things in this passage are important for us to hear and remember: that love comes from God, and that when we are in tune with God, love unfolds naturally in our lives in such a way it will be evident to all. I love the idea that “God’s love is made complete in us” when we let ourselves simply be who we are, God’s children, caring for each other simply, as God intended. That’s peace. That’s harmony. That’s God’s kingdom come, right here on earth, right now, if we’re willing.

It’s also helpful to be reminded that there is no fear in love. John identifies fear is a limiting, blinding emotion that robs us of our ability to care for one another. Too much fear can make our hearts hard, stunt our spiritual growth, rob the beauty of our blossoming. When we steel ourselves against others, judging them harshly, or rejecting people we don’t understand, we lose touch with the tenderness of our spirits, the softness teachableness God needs in order to help us learn more about grace and truth and love. “The one who fears,” John writes, “is not made perfect in love.” That’s because there is a blockage in the way and God’s light can’t reach the places within that need it most. But the antidote, fortunately, is simple: Perfect love drives out fear. When we catch ourselves reacting with fear to something, we can ask God to help us know how to respond in love. And God is faithful to do that, every time. One of my favorite prayers, when I find myself reacting emotionally or with worry or fear to a situation is, Please help me see this as You see it. I think God loves that prayer and every time I ask, God’s love flows in and new understanding comes.

In her book, O Taste and See: A Biblical Reflection on Experiencing God, author and scholar Bonnie Thurston wrote,

“The verb to be is the verb of existence, and in the personal realm, existence comes into being through love. Many of us learned as children that “God is love,” and it takes a lifetime to glimpse what 1 John asserts: “Love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God” and “God is love.”

She then quotes British theologian, G. W. H. Lampe, who said, “…the presence of God’s Spirit is chiefly mediated through human love. We experience the presence of God in our relations with other human beings.”

That points right to the heart of our tradition, what George Fox heard on that hillside so long ago, that “Christ comes to teach his people himself.” Whether we realize it or not, we are given the opportunity to meet God and share God’s love for all in every encounter we have—big and small—everywhere we go. It’s a continual, never-ending invitation. The next moment is our next change.

That makes me think of one of my favorite stories—which you’ve probably heard me tell before—about a little girl who’s having trouble staying in her bed at night. Over and over, she gets up and goes ruefully out to her mother in the family room. Finally, it occurs to the mother to pray with the child and together they ask for God’s presence and protection so the little girl won’t feel afraid. The mom tucks the little girl in bed once more with a kiss and goes out to relax on the couch. Minutes later, she hears the bedroom door open and here is the little girl again. The mother, exasperated, says, “Why are you up again? We said a prayer, everything is okay. God is with you!” The little girl looks at her mournfully and says, “But Mommy, sometimes I need God with skin on.”

That’s what taking care is all about—being God’s love with skin on for those we meet each day and the things and places we care for in our lives. Whether we’re helping out a family member, being kind to a stranger, or straightening up the junk drawer, God’s love can be the active force, filling our hearts and overflowing into the world around us, blessing it with grace and beauty and order. It’s a natural blossoming of love that can shine in all the moments of our day, making every meeting a holy meeting, if we have the eyes and the will to see it.

You may have seen on social media that yesterday was World Kindness Day, an annual, international event that celebrates small acts of kindness for a better world. The holiday was started in 1998 by a collection of non-profit organizations around the globe. They don’t have any big events or ask us to buy things or have any agenda other than to remind us, as citizens of the world, to take care of one another, tenderly, one kindness at a time.

When we do, as John wrote, “God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” And truly, what more do we need than that?

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