Regularly my husband and I ask ourselves who is getting our “best” and who is getting the “rest.” We have had to build this rhythm into our lives because we are limited in our capacities even when we are connected to an unlimited God. We have limits, we need rest, we come to the end of our selves; as such, there is a chasm between our best love and our leftovers.
To be certain, any love we give, be it a five-course meal or three-day old leftovers, comes from His outpouring of love into us; however, there are certain people we want to pour out the fresh, high octane love He has poured into us first.
In his masterpiece, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis explores this theme. Written from The following insight from Screwtape, an older demon mentoring his apprentice Wormwood in how to ensnare a new believer, helps us to evaluate where our best is being scattered and spent.
“Do what you will, there is going to be some benevolence, as well as some malice, in your patient’s soul. The great thing is to direct the malice to his immediate neighbors whom he meets everyday and to thrust his benevolence out to the remotest circumference, to people he does not know. The malice thus becomes wholly real and the benevolence largely imaginary. There is no good at all in inflaming his hatred of Germans, if, at the same time, a pernicious habit of charity is growing up between him and his mother, his employer, and the man he meets in the train.”
The picture of two demons dancing in delight when I put money in the Salvation Army bin or host a lovely party, only to be short-tempered and impatient with my own children and husband has stuck with me.
Just yesterday, I was meeting with a young lady I have been discipling. I gave her my full attention and my best wisdom, both of which are admirable things; however, I was spent afterwards and found myself being preoccupied and distracted with my own children, who are the most real and permanent fixtures in my earthly life. I realized afterwards that I had been directing my best love to the outer parts of my life and directing my leftovers, which are rarely pretty, to the ones who are with me everyday.
The juxtaposition of my grace towards the young lady and my frustration with my own children exposed my limitations. I had to repent of my poor attitude toward my own children and go back to the Lord, asking for fresh springs of His love.
I wish there were a simple formula or even a complex algorithm for who to love and when. However, the Bible has given us a seemingly impossible blanket statement to love our neighbors as ourselves. Christ exhibited this perfectly. He blessed the masses but invested in a few. He gave His best to the twelve disciples who were with Him day in and day out, but He has always had enough for the outliers and the outcasts that were in His path. While we are not Christ, we are in the process of being conformed to His likeness.
On our own, it is impossible to love any neighbor as ourselves, as our hearts, apart from the work of grace, are incurvatus in se (Latin for curved in on self); however, in Christ and through the Spirit, we are empowered to love those around us.
As an in-process broken and leaky vessel, the love that God pours into me doesn’t stick and stay. Thus, I have to choose where its best spills over. I long for His fresh inwrought patience that He works in me to be worked out into the lives of those who are with me daily, even though the tendency is to put my best foot forward with outsiders and leave the rest for my family.
This does not mean that I do not feel called to love our neighbors or that I want only to lavish love on the inner circle of my life. I long for God to continually stretch my capacity and character in such a way that His in-poured love stays long and penetrates deep, so deep and long that I have His love for both my inner and outer circles. However, I long to have a propensity to give my best to those who know me the best and whose lives my own life most deeply and regularly affect.
Oh, how I long for the day when my heart is so stretched and my affection so fixed on Christ that I am continually abiding in Him and able to mete out His best for those on my inner and outer circles. Until that day, I pray that those who are closest to me would find me continually repenting and returning to Him who is the source of all love.