"But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him." - Luke 15:19
Sometime last year, in the space between the New Year and the start of Lent, Kalie Paranzino led our Sacramento community in a beautiful prayer centered on finding and painting our "word" of the year that could become an easily-repeated meditative prayer mantra. When we hung up our five words in our dining room, we did not know what this year would hold or what those words could come to mean.
Enough. Seek. Move. Yet. Freshman. I could write a story for each word about how Kalie, Caitlin, Dolan and Alex taught me what it means to live a life for one another.
A few weeks after we put our last coat of paint on our words, we found ourselves in the midst of a two-week turned indefinite spell of distance learning. A year later, I can say I was in a lukewarm period of my relationship with God and with community.
We all answered the call to "Come and see" (John 1:39) when we said yes to ACE, yet because we are human, and because this life can feel hard and overwhelming, we sometimes want to pull at Jesus' cloak and say, "Whoah, whoah, are you sure THIS is what you wanted me to come and see? THIS is the living water you were talking about?" We wander off, like the prodigal son, content to spend our inheritance in a way that pleases us.
Spending so much time together, this was one of those moments for me. When routine turned into rut, my instinct was to define and confine community to fit with my schedule and my desires.
One particular week, I missed a text planning a community meal and I let feelings of fear, frustration, and lack of control determine my reaction. In embarrassment and apathy, I notified the others I'd just miss dinner that night. I wanted community to be something I could pick and choose to be a part of. And I didn't want to be a part of it that night.
Yet, instead of responding to my immature recoil with annoyance or judgement, my selfless, ever-kind community offered to move. They didn't just offer to push dinner back half an hour. They moved closer to meet me where I was, in my moment of darkness, because community doesn't just fit into a box that exists only at 6:30 on a Sunday. They ran to me, far off, and met me with the same love and compassion with which the Father runs toward us.
Here was just one of the many times I was jolted out of my comfortable tepidity to feel the red-hot love that is God's love for us and that we hope is reflected in intentional Christian community.
In the grind of teaching, more so in this year of certain uncertainty, it's so easy to become lukewarm, to define the terms of Jesus' call in order to maintain a sense of comfort. We tell ourselves not to get too excited about X because it might get cancelled. We say don't be disappointed, everyone's losing something.
This tepidity is a way to protect ourselves. We know we won't get burned. It's also not quite the chill where we noticeably remove ourselves completely from the warmth of the Father's embrace. It's medium. It is easier to play spiritual Goldilocks (as I have found myself so many times). It's far harder for us to run back home to the Father who thirsts for us to love him in each moment of our lives and our work.
Yet over and over, I am taught by my community that we are not a lukewarm people. We are an Easter people!
All loving God, help us to remember that we are enough because you made us and you love us. Cultivate our desire to seek you more deeply. Give us the courage to move closer to you by sharing our brokenness with each other. May we constantly have faith with fresh eyes and remind us to be kind to ourselves when we are not quite there, yet. Run to us, O Lord, and may we have the strength to run to you in prayer, in our communities, and in our work with our students. Amen.