June 17, 2015 — A white extremist young man enters a church in Charleston, S.C. and kills nine people.
Nov. 13, 2015 — Isis attacks in Paris have left 130 people dead.
June 11, 2016 — Fifty people were shot and killed with many more injured at a gay night club in Orlando.
“Imagine going for a run while eating a box of Twinkies. Besides being self-defeating and sideache-inducing, it would also be near impossible — you would have to stop running in order to eat the Twinkies. In the same way, you have to stop loving and pursuing goodness in order to hate and do wrong.” — Francis Chan, “Crazy Love”
There is so much brokenness, pain and hatred in this world. When did it start? When we stopped loving. Not with the kind of love you and I know, that is a selfish, restrained and judgmental kind of love. I am talking about loving with the purest form of love there is, God’s love. A love that has no beginning or end, a humble, forgiving, patient, kind and truthful love.
“Love others as you love yourself” is one of the two greatest commands in the Bible. Short and simple, yet oh, so difficult. We live in a very self-centered world. In my universe, I am at the center with my own set of beliefs, freedoms and rights. In your universe, you are at the center. We were, however, created to live in community, to relate to one another and to fellowship. But when universes with different upbringings collide and clash, BOOM!, a chain of incidents of cataclysmic proportions follows.
I don’t know about you, but I am concerned. I certainly don’t want my grandchild, due in less than a month, to grow up in the kind of world I see today. I have been scared, angry, have pointed fingers, blamed and judged … but how has this helped? I am sure I am not the only one who has felt this way. Many still do and that is their path, but I have decided to take radical control of my universe and open it for many more galaxies to enter and feel welcomed in it.
I know following through with this decision of setting an example of love and forgiveness will not bring any immediate solution to the acts of violence we are experiencing, in the next city over or on the other side of the world. But I also understand the current situation didn't develop overnight. Evil has been stewing in the hearts of men since the beginning of ages and by rejecting God in our society, we have given hatred, violence and meaningless bloodshed a free pass in our culture. I realize it is difficult not to want to retaliate, especially if you have been directly affected by all this violence, but as Martin Luther King Jr. wisely stated, "Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars... Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."
Desire to love
How could you forgive such heinous acts of terror, you may ask. I saw it happen in Charleston, where all nine families of the victims publicly forgave the culprit of the massacre. It is possible! Not by our own power, since good intentions won't last. It is not about trying really hard to change but by letting God in and transform us. Something mysterious, even supernatural must happen in our lives for genuine love for others to grow in our hearts. When we desire to love, it brings forth love, which cause us to desire it even more, which results in more love... As long as we are pursuing the way of love, our hearts won't have space for the opposite.
Let's strip ourselves naked of our old ways and (you will love this) put on a brand new wardrobe. One of forgiveness, love and respect. What we have done up to this point is not working. Let’s try something different.
It is time to set our childish behavior aside and grow up. As adults, we are still carrying our high school persona with us. We ignore, label and reject those we don’t like, in other words, we bully them. They represent the unknown, another skin color, another lifestyle, another set of beliefs. They don’t fit our comfortable, picture-perfect molds, so they are to be feared and squashed like a bug. I have been on both sides of the spectrum and trust me, it leaves a long-lasting, very bitter taste. How about instead of reacting, we pro-actively decide to take time to know them? Then we will realize they are just like us.
Set the example, my friend. Be the example. Somebody, young or old, is always watching and learning from you.
You have probably already realized that Jesus is the center of my universe. I am not in any way pushing my beliefs on you. That is actually what has gotten us in the mess we now find ourselves in. I also believe we are all different, unique and very special, but much-needed components of a grander plan. We were made to be one, but we will only get there by surrendering our old selfish nature and embracing, accepting and cherishing our differences. That is how we learn, we grow, we mature. That is how we love.
Johanna Eccles, a local health coach and motivational speaker, can be reached at JohannaForero@mac.com