Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 21:22-24

22 And it came to pass at that time, that Abimelech and Phichol the chief captain of his host spake unto Abraham, saying, God is with thee in all that thou doest: 

23 Now therefore swear unto me here by God that thou wilt not deal falsely with me, nor with my son, nor with my son’s son: but according to the kindness that I have done unto thee, thou shalt do unto me, and to the land wherein thou hast sojourned.

24 And Abraham said, I will swear.

We like to assume that good conduct can be taken for granted. All people should already be decent human beings who don’t lie and cheat and steal from one another. We shouldn’t require a special pledge from someone that they won’t stab us in the back one day. Everything that Abimelech is asking Abraham to pledge are things that ought to go without saying.

We might even feel offended if someone felt it necessary to ask us for such a promise. We genuinely believe that we will always conduct ourselves towards others in an honorable way. And yet…we don’t. We stab each other in the back all the time. Even the people we are closest to: neighbors, family, even our own spouse, we betray their trust as soon as it is in our interest to do so. The willful harm we inflict on others is so ubiquitous that a common control question during a polygraph is “have you ever hurt someone that you care about?” The truthful answer is always “yes.”

To be frank, most of us are well-mannered and respectful only because it serves us well to be so. The fear of incurring anger, social shame, and criminal justice are what primarily deter us from inflicting harm. But once we have to choose between another or ourselves, our natural instinct is always to side with our own interest. Of course men and women can overcome this common selfish tendency, but only by deliberate effort.

So I believe this question from Abimelech was actually very sincere. It is a testament to the quality of their relationship that Abimelech felt he could cut past the façade and the formality and hold this question with Abraham in earnestness. Honestly and truly, will you deal honorably with me and my family, even when it isn’t to your own advantage? And Abraham sincerely replies, “yes.”

Optimism in a Falling World- Luke 6:32-35

For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them.
And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same.
And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again.
But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.

COMMENTARY

If ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them.
If ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same.
But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again.

At times I have looked at the people around me and said “I don’t think it would be worth investing in this community. I’m only here temporarily. I could give my all to this place, but nothing lasting would come of it, so why try?” At other times I have tried…just once. I’ve invited my neighbors over for dinner, engaged them in some small talk, and if things took off we became friends…but if not, then I’d be polite, I’d smile and wave from across the street, but we would never become anything more than “acquaintances.”
Why would I try to have a relationship with someone if that relationship was not beneficial to me? Why would I engage with someone if there wasn’t something about them that was interesting or pleasant to me about them? What would be the point?

But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.
Well thank goodness God doesn’t feel the same way! There isn’t a whole lot of value He can get out of His association with us either. Yet He spreads love to children that will never be able to pay Him back for the investment. He spreads love to children that don’t ever acknowledge what He does for them. He spreads His love to children that even label themselves as His enemies! He gives all of them breath and life and beautiful sunsets and depth of emotion and the offer of His peace.
God does not limit His love to the places that return a profit and neither should we. We should not decide our relationships based simply on what they can do for us. For even if this world was falling apart and beyond all reclamation, it would still be worthy for us to pour our love into it. For even if doing so did not have the desired effect on the world, it would still have the desired effect on us.

Service to Others- Personal Example #3

Why is it that we don’t do the things we know will make us happy? I’m sure each one of us could write a long list of things we wish we did on a regular basis…but just don’t. Most recently I’ve been noticing my own shortcomings in being social, giving others my time and attention, and finding ways to serve them. I don’t doubt that I will be a better person and find joy in doing these things, and yet I put them off even so.

As I’ve considered my situation, I’ve noticed that it is following the same pattern as a past experience I had. For the last several years I struggled to get into a regular exercise regime. I would start-and-stop over and over, flurries of intense workouts and then long doldrums of absolutely nothing. But then, a little more than a year ago, the struggle stopped. Today I run every workday during my lunch break, and if I happen to miss, I do aerobics at home in the evening.

Find Your Own Way)

What made the difference? Well one thing was finding my way of doing exercise. Early morning running might be great for some people, but it wasn’t for me. Leaving it until the evening never worked either, because after a long workday all I wanted to do was relax. Each time I chose a workout plan and it failed I would get disheartened and stop trying for months. But by trial and error I finally found something that worked.

It has been the same with reaching out to our neighbors. A little while ago my wife and I tried inviting a different family over for dinner every week. It went great for a little while, but it wasn’t sustainable as Summer vacations ate up so much of our schedule. Having people over for dinner is still something I want to do regularly, but I’m now adding quick cookies-and-chats visits as a fallback because they work more constantly.

You Enjoy What You Are Good At)

The other lesson I’ve learned is that when I say I do not like something, what I might really mean is that I am not good at it. For the longest while I was convinced that I hated running. But as I persevered, I found I enjoyed it more and more because I was getting better at it. During those first runs I would jog for five minutes, get winded, have to walk, try running again, get winded even sooner…it was embarrassing, so of course I “didn’t like it.” No one enjoys that experience.

Socially it is the same. At the start of my mission I was terrible at talking to people, but after being constant interaction with them all day I really got quite a bit better. Now I haven’t maintained that skill, but I know I can get it back with practice.

I think this is the same thing that keeps so many people inside of their shells. So many of us don’t know how to talk to people at first, so the experience is awkward, and of course we don’t like it. But there is a surefire way to get better at anything you want. By doing it. Yep, it’ll be awkward, stilted, and embarrassing for the first while. But then you’ll get better, and then it’ll be fun.

God’s Plan)

“Seek and ye shall find” still requires seeking. To “take his yoke upon us” is lighter than trying to do things on our own, but it is still a burden. I think many of us expect the way to be clean and paved for us when we do God’s work, but that would prevent us from having any growing experiences.

So yes, have confidence that you will succeed, that you will see miracles, and that God will show up for you. But temper that with the knowledge that it will take effort, that you will fail and have to pick yourself back up again, and that you will have to grow to make it. And then, with both those sides in mind, also remember that it will all be worth it in the end.

Service to Others- Personal Example #2

My commitment yesterday was to try and reach out to that couple in my neighborhood again. I was glad that I made the commitment, because without it I don’t think I would have followed through. There was no great obstacle, mind you, just the general apathy that keeps me at home most days.

Things actually went almost exactly as before. That couple I was trying to reach wasn’t home again, so this time I left the plate of cookies on their doorstep with a quick note. Just something that said I was thinking of them and hoped they were well.

I had prepared two plates of cookies that night, though, and also made a visit to another couple that recently moved into our community. They were home and invited me in to sit down and chat with them for a half hour. It was a really nice talk, and I left feeling blessed from the interaction. I hope they did, too.

These have been fun experiences, and I like that they’re so sustainable. I could easily do a visit like this every week. I could also change it up, and perhaps instead of bringing cookies simply ask “Hey, our family is really hoping to help yours out for the next half hour. Could you give us some little task that we can take care of for you?” It’s certainly a bit unusual, but who is going to feel anything but positivity from that?

So I find myself wondering why has this been so difficult? I never doubted that it would be a positive experience, and yet I just didn’t want to do it. As I’ve thought about why that is I’ve been able to glean a few insights about myself. Truths about me that I think many others will be able to relate to as well. Come back tomorrow and I’ll tell you all about them.

Service to Others- Personal Example #1

One week ago I had an experience which was the catalyst for this whole study session. I had been thinking for a while about a couple in our neighborhood, and how I ought to bring them some cookies and ask how they’re doing. I always found reasons to put it off until later, but finally last Monday I decided “no, today I’m doing it.”

So I made the treat, packed my son in his push-car, and walked over to their house. They weren’t home, which was a bit disappointing, but after having finally committed to doing something good I decided that this moment couldn’t end in failure. My son and I looked for someone else to deliver the cookies to.

Three homes later we finally found a person at home. We had a brief, but nice chat, and left the cookies with him. I have no idea if he felt touched by the gesture or not, but I felt content in my heart.

That contentment stood out to me a good deal. In fact I noticed that my resolve to bring a treat to the initial couple almost entirely deflated. I still feel just as strongly that I should, but I don’t feel very motivated for it. As I did some introspection, it seems that I have two motivations for doing service to others. One is because someone I see someone specific that I think needs a kind act, and the other is because I generally need to do service to feel complete.

And so with my little excursion last week I satiated the general need, but not the specific one. For whatever reason, it is that general need that comes on more strongly for me, and without it I have difficulty in acting. I guess I just happen to have a stronger love for all mankind in general than for any random stranger.

That’s not an ideal way to be, but having recognized this weakness I accept that it is real, and I resolve to improve on it. And to that end, I am committing to try and reach out to that married couple again tonight. Because even if I do not yet feel strongly motivated, I can do it anyhow and so exercise my weaker spiritual muscles. I’ll report tomorrow how things go.