Thursday, June 21, 2012

On Caring

I have people who love me and they do the most startling things, like bring me jelly jars of home-grown raspberries tied with a sprig of lavender.

They leave organic lollipops and McD's coupons on our doorstep, the modern-day sacrifices of the small fry set.

They watch my kids and make sure I have salsa on my birthday.

They dole out covert prescription drugs when it just has to be done.

They loan me books and give me paint that's too bright for them. They take me out on dates. They listen to all of the open shelving options and thoughtfully weigh in.

They care for me.

I read these verses more than a month ago, via Barefoot Church, and not a single day has passed since that they have not clouded me over a bit.
I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
  Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals 
  I hate with all my being.
  They have become a burden to me;
  I am weary of bearing them.

When you spread out your hands in prayer,
  I hide my eyes from you;
  even when you offer many prayers,
  I am not listening. (Isaiah 1:13d-15)

Wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds out of my sights;
  stop doing wrong.

Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
  plead the case of the widow. (Isaiah 1:16-17)

Is it possible that God covers his ears when we pray if we are not doing the work that is most important to Him? Back when I was even more clueless than I am now, did He hide His eyes from me? Was my religious church attendance a burden to Him?

It seems impossible.
I'm not saying that for affect and there's really no "but..." lingering in my throat.

It seems impossible that this stuff matters so much to Him.

I was never taught that what God expected most from me was to defend the oppressed. I didn't even think I knew the oppressed. The oppressed were in Cuba or maybe Detroit.

These verses about caring for the poor and afflicted, I guess I knew they were in there somewhere, but I was trained to see them figuratively, since that's the only option that isn't a life-wrecker. They weren't relevant today, to me. They were for those blasted Israelites.

If you told me it applied to my own sweaty self on June 21st, wearing my favorite skirt and cursing my hair, I would have said No, you're taking it out of context. It's not for me. Or maybe, Yep. God wants us to care for the poor. I do care about them. Those poor Poors. I feel so bad. Thank God I'm not one of them. (But for the grace of God go I! )The end.

I thought caring for them meant caring about them, and of course I did. Who's heartless enough to not care about poor people? I mean, poverty is pretty sad, right?

This caring about required little more than an occasional thought, hazy at the edges, empty in the middle. It was never a "Bring them into your home and give them hot food and drive them all over Timbuktu and don't ask questions" sort of caring.

Over the past couple of weeks, Cory and I have been privileged to see God work in some of the lives around us. To be an active part of His work is nothing short of drop-down humbling. It has been entirely unexpected and the sort of thing that breaks me out in full-body goosebumps - even on my cheeks. I'll be honest, the timing hasn't been the best.

These are strangers. Only, they're not.

Maybe that's the biggest part of God whipping our rears into gear - He's fixing our eyes so they see these "strangers" as our very own. It's not about trying to fix them or swoop in and save them. It's not about "what if they're taking advantage?". It's about caring for them in a tangible way, using our own human arms, our dirty, oil-burning cars, the wrinkled dollars in our purse. It's packing grapes into tupperware and allowing the most hectic week in the history of the world to get even dicier.

It's these small motions, extended not because we feel sorry or guilty, not because we're trying to earn something that was never for sale. It's because she's me. They're us. We're them. So they need something that we have, and we're starting to care. That is only God. Only, ever God. He's taking a sledge-hammer to all our big ideas and we're finding Him there in the dust.

Our prayer started out something like, "Make us care more". Now, we pray that in a year, we'll look back at these words I wrote and laugh at how we were only nibbling on the crust.

Today, we pray that the grapes and the cake, the four-dollar gasoline and the prayers will pile up until all there is to see is God, and his big, fat love for them.

Maybe He'll fix their eyes along the way and when they look back at us, they'll see themselves. They'll see that they weren't created to be charity cases. They're beat-up travelers, just like us. They're small and powerless on their own.

They were created, just like me and you, to give a rip about the things that make their Creator pound His fists and scream like a maniac.