Challenge Day 26

Today’s Inspiration. Over the weekend I attended my cousin’s wedding and Bia Malu Uno. This is the last of a series of ceremonies that are part of Igbo wedding rites in the bride’s Nigerian culture. People from all over the world—literally—came to witness this traditional joining of the bride’s family with the groom’s, and the day was filled with such joy and love. At one point as we were watching the people mingling, dancing, and laughing, the groom’s father (also my cousin—my mom’s first cousin) said to me, “This is beautiful. This is how it should be.”

The bride, a beautiful Nigerian woman in a cream-colored wedding dressed and orange necklace holding a bouquet of soft, wheat-colored grasses tied to look like a hand-held broom.

This is how it should be.

People of all nations and cultures, getting along. Filled with genuine love and acceptance for each other. Yes, even—gasp!—people of different religions. Jesus’ name was highly honored in both the ceremony and the hearts of the majority of people there, but there were also representatives of Islam in attendance since the groom himself converted several years ago. I’m sure, given the diversity, there were people of other religions or no religion at all in attendance as well. What I did not see or hear at any time during the weekend was a disrespectful gesture or word from one guest to another, or about another.

A group of women from several different cultures and a child dancing a traditional Nigerian dance.

What I saw, what I witnessed, was a diverse group of people treating each other, at the least, as neighbors—and more often as family.

We’ve been spending time thinking about Matthew 22:37-39, in which Jesus, speaking to a Pharisee, named the two greatest commandments. The second is to

Love your neighbor as yourself. (NIV)

A red-headed, ten-year-old girl’s face is close-up in the left-hand corner. In the blurred background, across the aisle seated in chairs for a wedding are women in traditional Igbo dress, bright green and bright pink.

In the account of the interaction between Jesus and the Pharisee in Luke, the Pharisee wanted to qualify this. Actually, he wanted to justify himself—probably his past actions and present attitudes toward certain groups of people—so he asked, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29, NIV). Rather than give a straight answer, Jesus replied with the parable of the Good Samaritan, who turned out to be the one person in the story who acted like a true neighbor to a man who had been beaten and left for dead—a man who may not have stopped for him, if the situation were reversed (Luke 10:30-37).

Then Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

The white groom in an Igbo hat and outfit. The outfit is made from non-traditional material—red with a Wisconsin Badgers logo repeated in a pattern. He is bending over hugging his aunt.

Do likewise. You be the one who acts like a neighbor. Whether it’s a friend or a stranger. Someone who looks like you or someone who doesn’t. Someone who thinks, believes, and acts like you or someone who doesn’t. Someone you’d normally consider your sworn enemy.

Look around you. See those people? Those are your neighbors. All of them.

Taken from the back of an outdoor tent, there is a group of women in Igbo dress dancing outside the tent. They are doing a dance to indicate their acceptance of the groom’s family for their daughter/cousin—this shows they will not take her away and nullify the wedding. In the foreground are spectators, other wedding guests witnessing the transaction.

And how are you to treat these people, these neighbors of yours? You are to love them like you love yourself. Like you love yourself.

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a tall order. Because I know myself, and know that my first natural reaction to most things in life is to protect myself, to care for myself, to guard my own interests, often to the detriment of others. But that’s not what Jesus wants. Loving myself? Yes, I am to love myself. But then extend that same love to everyone around me. The way I protect myself? I need to protect others that way. Care for myself? Care for others just as much. Guard my interests? Guard their interests too, if they are worth guarding.

Which brings us to today’s challenge.

The bride’s father, a Nigerian in traditional Igbo garb, walking in a meadow with the groom’s aunt, a white woman in a black and white dress.

Today’s Challenge. Your challenge today is to take yesterday’s list of the ways you love yourself and turn it into statements about how to love your neighbor. In the paragraph beginning “I don’t know about you” above, I did a bit of this. Your bigger challenge, though (one that doesn’t stop at sundown), is to try to practice this kind of love toward the people around you.

A red ceramic candle holder with star cut-outs sitting on a wooden wall shelf. Photo text: Challenge Day 26, neighborly love. #writinglifeaugustchallenge

This challenge, especially the second part, won’t be easy. You will fail. But that’s the beauty of God’s forgiveness through Jesus, and of the promise of the Holy Spirit to those who believe in Jesus; God forgives when we fail and the Spirit helps us show love in ways we wouldn’t be able to on our own. That means that throughout this challenge, you’ll want to—need to—pray for God’s help. Help showing you what it means to love someone as you love yourself. Help living it out. And forgiveness for those times you are unable to do as he commands.

Today’s Participation. Tell or show us about one of your neighbors and one small way you are able to show them neighborly love—or want to begin to try to show that kind of love. Write about it in the comments or post about it on social media using #writinglifeaugustchallenge.

Challenge Day 25

As I write this, I’m a passenger in my own car on a family road-trip to my cousin’s out-of-state wedding. By the time this posts, the wedding will be over and we will be getting ready to head back home again. I’m not accustomed to writing in a car in such close proximity to the rest of my family; I’m more of a need-it-quiet, need-it-need, want-to-be-alone type of writer. In fact, I think the writer in me is one reason I put a high value on solitude. I like it quiet, and I like to be alone.

I also value safety and prefer my own driving over my husband’s. He’s one of those drivers I hate to have around me—always riding the tail of the person in front of him (“I’m not tailing them”), always speeding up even when brake lights are flashing on in front of us, always driving the automatic transition with both feet. Honestly, it scares me to sit in the passenger seat when he drives. Because I’m not in control. Because, I suppose, I trust myself more than I trust him (or pretty much anyone else).

I also just want to protect myself (and my kids). Despite the fact that he hasn’t been in an accident in the almost twenty years I’ve known him, I still tend to have the I-value-my-own-life, grabbing the handle on the ceiling next to my door reaction all too often when he is driving—accompanied, of course, with instructions for how he should be driving my car.

One thing that’s popping up here, again and again? I. Me. My. Did you catch that?

I value solitude.
I like it quiet.
i like to be alone.
I value safety.
I prefer my own driving.
I like to be in control.
I trust myself.
I want to protect myself.
I value my life.

All evidence that I love myself. I also know that I tend to be incredibly selfish and my self-love tends to come out in horrible ways sometimes—like the way I’m quick to defend myself when I feel attacked or insecure, the way I’m quick to complain when something makes my life a little harder, the way I’m quick to criticize when something isn’t done the way I like it (again, the control issue—it’s a known problem I’m working on). But again, although I don’t think of it consciously very often, I do love myself. My actions prove it.

Let me pause here to say that, in my selfishness, I don’t always make wise choices in my self-love—a lot of those choices have to do with how they affect those around me, my neighbors. But that’s a topic for tomorrow.

I think most people, upon examining their own actions and motives closely, would have to say the same thing: I love myself. I know some people are convinced of just the opposite, but at the same time those people usually long to love themselves, and long to have others love them.

Self-love—that’s what this challenge post is about.

Small decorative wooden crate on a table in foreground, with blurry, colorful books laying behind the crate in the background. Photo text: Challenge Day 25, self-love. #writinglifeaugustchallenge

Today’s Inspiration. I find it interesting that when Jesus told us the second greatest commandment, to love our neighbors, he simply told us to love them like we love ourselves:

Love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:39, NIV)

Those two little words—as yourself—are today’s challenge inspiration.

Today’s Challenge. How do you love yourself? Your challenge today is to explore the answers to this question through journaling and prayer. Ask God to reveal your own heart to you, and show you the ways in which you love yourself. Write them down. If you struggle with self-love, ask God to show you how you should love yourself.

Today’s Participation. Today’s topic is highly personal, so find someone you trust to talk about this with. If you’re comfortable, go ahead and share something you learned about how you love yourself online. It could help someone who is struggling and is not comfortable enough to share.

Challenge Day 24

Can anyone out there name the movie and scene this quote comes from?

“Love, true love…”

No? Perhaps it would be easier if spelled phonetically, the way it is pronounced in the movie:

“Wuv, twu wuv…”

Got it now?

When I sat down to write today’s blog and thought about the topic—true love, as in truly loving the Lord—that’s what popped into my head right away: a quote from pop culture, from a movie I saw when I was young (if no one guesses, perhaps I’ll put it in the comments later—until then you’ll have to be in suspense). The speed with which that popped into my mind is a testament to Thursday’s challenge post and the vast amount of (sometimes useless) information we’re constantly exposed to. But honestly, besides the phrase, it has nothing to do with today’s topic: the who—the recipient—of the love we’ve been exploring for the past few days.

Today’s Inspiration. We’ve been examining the way in which we are to love: with all our hearts, with all our souls, with all our minds, and with all our strength. But in doing so, we skipped over considering whom we are to love like this, taking that part of it for granted:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. (Matthew 22:37, NIV)

Today, we’ll look at that phrase the Lord your God.

Shelf with old fashioned, red alarm clock sitting on it in top left-hand corner; blank wall in middle; galvanized steel star hung on the wall in bottom right-hand corner. Photo text: Challenge Day 24, the Lord your God. #writinglifeaugustchallenge

Today’s Challenge. Spend some time thinking about the phrase the Lord your God, about to whom it refers, and about what it means to call him Lord. Pray that the Lord will reveal something about himself to you before you begin and look to what he says about himself, in the Bible, rather than relying on your own understanding of him. It’s only really possible to love someone when you know something about who they are—so it’s important to discover who your Lord really is.

Today’s Participation. Have a conversation, post a comment, or create a post on social media that says something about who God is that makes him worthy of our love (trust me, he’s more than worthy!). When you do, refer to the Bible verse(s) in which God reveals that characteristic of himself to us.

I can’t leave this post without recommending one of my favorite books on this topic, Knowing God by J. I. Packer. It’s not an easy read but it is an excellent one!