“What matters is to find a purpose, to see what it really is that God wills that I shall do; the crucial thing is to find a truth which is truth for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die.” -Søren Kierkegaard
I am not a philosopher, but I’m married to one and I thank God every day for that. One of the greatest gifts my husband, Eric, has given me in the fifteen years we’ve known each other is to challenge my way of thinking about the world. He never tells me what to think; good teachers rarely do, but he asks questions. Really, really good questions.
There’s a wonderful children’s book called “Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed” by Mo Willems. Eric brought it home from the bookstore one day to read to our oldest daughter. The story follows the struggles of Wilbur, the naked mole rat who likes to wear clothes. You see, Wilbur lives in a colony of mole rates that are all, you guessed it, naked. Poor Wilbur’s love for clothes is met with disdain by some of the other mole rats. “NAKED MOLE RATS DON’T WEAR CLOTHES!!!” they yell at him.
Then Wilbur asks a simple, but profound question, “Why not?”
I won’t give away the ending, but I will say that no one is able to answer Wilbur’s question. I think there’s a lot we can learn from a book like this. On some level, we are all a little uncomfortable with people who think differently than we do.
In many ways Eric has been the Wilbur in my life. I was 18 when we first met and it was the day before I started college. We met in line at a bookstore- a fitting beginning for us. Unfortunately, at the time I was a lot like the other mole rats in the book- getting angry and self-righteous whenever I met someone who didn’t prescribe to my brand of religious fundamentalism.
Thankfully, Eric didn’t run away from me in those early months when I said “CHRISTIANS CAN’T BELIEVE THAT!!!” He simply asked “Why not?” To which I huffed and said “Well, just because. That’s the way it is! It’s in the Bible!”
No, he didn’t run away. Instead he patiently opened a dialogue with me and asked more great questions. He presented alternative points of view. Slowly, eventually I opened my mind to the possibility that, at 18, I might not have everything figured out. Go figure.
Much of my identity was caught up in my religious fundamentalism, so when I broke free of it- yes, BROKE FREE- I decided to follow after Jesus without putting restrictions (on myself or others) on what that should look like.
It was hard not to fall back into old ways. I had made theology my idol for so long and then suddenly the rug was pulled out from under me and I realized just how far away from Jesus I had strayed. After all, it is much easier to think you have all the answers than to come before God and admit you don’t.
So, I went back to basics. I looked at the life of Jesus. I listened to his teachings anew and tried to ignore the pre-set interpretation I’d been indoctrinated with. I studied his behavior. If I wanted to walk in his footsteps, I needed to know where he walked.
During this time, I was searching for what it meant to be a Christian. I was searching for my purpose, my identity in Jesus. As Kierkegaard described it, I was searching for “the idea for which I was willing to live and die.”
“‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’” -Matthew 22: 36-40.
This is the idea that I’m willing to live and die for: love God and love people. It doesn’t say love God and love people, but only if they agree with you.
I used to devote a lot of time and energy to my theology and being able to defend it to others when I should have been following after Jesus. I had to learn that life is not about surrounding yourself with people who think like you and others need not apply.
The command to love our neighbors is much easier to do when the people in our lives think like us, look like us, and live like us. It’s a lot scarier to follow after Jesus when he starts dining with tax collectors and prostitutes, but that is exactly what disciples of Jesus are called to do. And what has surprised me most of all, is just how much I have to learn from people who are different from me.
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