Stretching the Circle

The other day, out of the blue, while driving in the car, my middle son had a moment of inspiration. He loudly proclaimed, “When I get home, I need to do a watercolor verse.”

Sure enough, when we got home, he put on his artist hat and dove into his piece. As he diligently worked, he told me that the prints hanging on our bathroom walls had inspired him. Absolutely precious. A sweet moment to hang onto in the midst of the roller coaster ride of parenting.

“Love your naders as yourself.” The second half of the Greatest Commandment. This was his print, one he told me he wanted me to frame and hang in the bathroom with our other two Etsy prints.  I had mixed feelings about this request, and not for the reason you may think.

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His print is more precious to me than the two beautiful prints I purchased, so I will have no problem proudly displaying it in our guest bathroom. My hesitation is a selfish one. I am not sure I am ready to let that verse stare through me daily. To know it is one thing, to display it publicly on my walls where I will have to be held accountable to it is quite another.

You see, a new family moved onto our street this week. This should be cause for rejoicing, as now the amount of children on our block rivals the amount of college students in the house next door. But rather than rejoice, I inwardly cringed.

“I can barely love these strangers in my own home. I already feel pulled and pushed just to love those in the tight little circle of my immediate family, along with a few other sheep that the Lord has thrown into my flock. How in the world can there be room in my heart and my life for more people?”

I knew it was selfish, but it was sincere selfishness. And the Lord does value honesty and candor.

“Lord, you are going to have to stretch my circle. You are going to have to enlarge my heart to make room for more chaos and craziness and noise.”

Immediately, the Lord brought to mind a prayer of Amy Carmichael that I treasure enough to have hand-written in the front leaf of my Bible.  Amy went to India to preach the gospel to adults, to lead women to the Lord. Much to her surprise, the Lord slowly moved her calling to rescuing and raising orphaned children. He didn’t throw her into the deep end. He slowly stretched her circle of capacity and love from one child to a few children to scores of children. I love Amy because she is candid and confessional. Oftentimes, when the Lord would bring her to another child or another child to her, Amy would inwardly resist, recognizing that she was already in way over her head. But, though prayer, she would ask God to make room in her heart.

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“These children are dear to Me. Be a mother to them, and more than a Mother. Watch over them tenderly, be just and kind. If thy heart is not large enough to embrace them, I will enlarge it after a pattern of my own. If these young children are docile and obedient, bless me for it; if they are froward and disobedient, call upon me for help; if they weary thee, I will be thy consolation; if thou sink under thy burden, I will be thy reward.”

Madeline L’engle, the great children’s writer who dabbled in poetry, wrote a poem that expresses a similar sentiment called Lines Scribbled on an Envelope While Riding the 104 Broadway Bus. I’ve included an excerpt below.

“Expand my love, Lord, so I can help to bear the pain,

help your love move my love into the tired prostitute with

false eyelashes and bunioned feet,

the corrupt policeman with his hand open for graft,

the addict, the derelict, the woman in the mink coat and

discontented mouth,

the high school girl with heavy books and frightened eyes.

Help me through these scandalous particulars

to understand your love.

Help me to pray.”

I need my circle to be lovingly stretched more often than I care to admit. It seems that the circle of my love has some quality that likens it to the Shrinky-Dinks I loved as a child. It starts large and expansive, spacious and spread out. But with busyness and failure and exhaustion and the compound interest of life, it begins to shrink until it so small that it barely gets beyonds its own needs and desires and hurts. When my heart reaches this state, God lovingly sends new “naders,” new challenges, new concerns that stretch me from a small and selfish love to an expanded and straining love.

Lord, keep stretching my circle. There are so many who need to experience your love. I don’t have it, but your love can move my love to love more.

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