Does my Christian faith make me a kinder, more loving, more compassionate person?
I’m not sure that my answer has always been, “Yes.”
I would hope that I could answer that question in the affirmative today, but it’s easy to see how many barriers get in the way of caring for others.
We have no shortage of barriers between ourselves and others, and sometimes it’s hard to recognize them, much less to rise above them.
I grew up in the conservative evangelical ecosystem in America. Many of my afternoons included a ton of conservative/Christian nationalist talk radio. The one thing I remember from that period of my life was a kind of fear, if not contempt of people who were different from me.
Sometimes that fear or contempt gave way to a kind of hostility or suspicion of people who held different views from my own.
In addition, I was fixated on having the right doctrine. Having the right answers meant a lot more than showing grace and kindness to others.
Of course it’s easy to be dogmatic or to hold others in contempt no matter what you believe. It’s not like one vein of the Christian faith has loving others figured out. I can only speak from what I’ve experienced, and I know this: A lot of my time as a Christian was invested in being right and fearing others.
It’s hard to reach out to others in love if you’re already protecting yourself from them. Of course this raises all sorts of questions about the ways Christians in America have failed to love their enemies, let alone those who are different from them. I was so busy fearing others that it never crossed my mind to love them.
When I look back at the times that I helped others, I honestly wonder how much of my action was motivated by a genuine, God-inspired love for them and how much of it was just a shared sense of humanity. Was I aware of how much God loved these people? Was my service to them rooted in love and concern or more of a sense of pity and compassion for their suffering?
I don’t have an easy answer here for myself.
Can we evaluate our own motivations or the motivations of others?
Can we recognize the difference that God’s love makes in our lives, let alone the way God’s love influences our kindness toward others?
What is driving us to help others? Is it the love of God. I hope so, but sometimes I wonder.
Do I live each day with a grounding awareness of God’s love?
Have I spent time each day attentive to the presence of God?
Or do I leave my mind to wander with distractions in sports, news, entertainment, or who knows what else?
I can’t imagine it would be helpful to hold all of my actions under a spotlight to determine whether they are rooted in love or rooted in something else. Motivations are challenging to untangle.
Maybe one place to begin is asking myself, “What am I aware of right now?”
Much like a daily Examen that aims to look for God’s presence and to increase one’s awareness of God, I can pause to consider what’s on my mind and what’s driving me to act.
Too many times in my life, I’ve been driven by things other than love. I made a lot of noise, but I’m not sure I always shared a lot of love. That isn’t too say I’ve been completely useless, but I wonder how I could have loved others better if I’d seen them through the clarity of God’s love rather than the fog of today’s distractions.