As I’ve served churches over the years that host preschools, a common theme for early in the year has been inviting the kids to answer the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The children would draw their responses to the question – and the images that lined our hallways reflected everything from firefighters to veterinarians and princesses to monster truck drivers.
Often times, I’m afraid we stop asking that question too early. Once we graduate, or get the degree, or find the job and start the career, it’s assumed that we’ve fully exhausted the depths of that inquiry. But lately, I think partially because of this midlife moment I’m navigating, the question has been rolling around in my head again. Like a locker room at halftime, when coach and players put their heads together to identify changes that need to be made for the second half, I’ve been reflecting on the question, what do I want the life to look like at the end of the second half, and what changes do I need to make to get there?
Recently, Pastor Jacob Armstrong, of Providence United Methodist Church in Mt. Joliet, TN, preached a series of messages that spoke powerfully to me (as his often do). The series, which he titled, Becoming Love, helped me answer the question, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” What do I want to become? I want to become love.
The apostle John writes in the first letter bearing his name the following:
“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.” – I John 4:16-18
Thinking back to my geometry days (I was once a math major, believe it or not) and proving theorems, this is what I think of:
- When I put my faith in Christ, God the Holy Spirit comes to live in me.
- If God lives in me, love lives in me.
- Since there is still some (OK – a lot of) fear in me, I haven’t yet become perfect in love.
- I’m still becoming love.
You don’t have to ask my family and friends if I fulfill the promise of John that says, “In this world, we are like Jesus.” You only have to be around me for a half a minute to realize that. However, though I’m not where I need to be, I thank God that I’m not where I once was.
At halftime, I need to re-calibrate my life in order to keep becoming love. For me, that means that I have to – every single day – be honest about those places where fear broke through, expressing itself in anger or hiding or self-centeredness. I have to confess that to God, and when it has impacted someone else, confess it to them as well. When I do that, I simply say, “God I don’t want to stay here, because it’s not where You want me. Forgive me, and on top of that, make me new. Help me to become love.” For me, that means I have to spend time listening for God’s voice in Scripture and in prayer. I have to spend time with the people in my life who model Jesus to me and for me. I have to look for opportunities to, without fanfare or recognition, do the loving thing for someone else. I have to endure the hard truth that those I trust and love need to sometimes point out – those places where I’m not looking all that much like the Jesus who lives in me. And I have to surrender those hurt places and those hard places and those rough edges to God, so that the Holy Spirit can do the work that I can’t.
Then, I have to hold on to the words Paul wrote to the Philippian church so long ago, and could have written to me today (and yesterday, and the day before that, and again tomorrow): that the One “who began a good work in [me] will be carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
I’m not there yet. But by the grace of God, I trust that I am, and will continue to be, becoming love.