I recently came across a US church that had three short sentences as its motto: ‘Receive love. Give love. Repeat.’ That might seem too simple for some of us, or maybe not specific enough to express the depths of our faith. However, as I’ve thought about it in the last few weeks, I’ve realised that the deceptively simple words are quite a challenge.
I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling in need of refreshment. (It’s just as well that I’ve got a retreat coming up this week!) No matter how many years I have been trying to learn this lesson, I repeatedly discover that when I am tired it is usually because I am rushing around trying to do things in my own strength.
It feels counter-intuitive to slow down when there is lots to do and with the new freedoms that we are enjoying, but when we finally do this, we understand the truth of it. Simply put, if we don’t allow ourselves to receive God’s love, we won’t have any to give. A student was telling me last week that in the days after his deadlines and assessments he just lay down on his floor and really listened to some music in a way that sounded healing and restorative. Other students have spoken about creative projects or cooking meals for friends. A small group of students and I are going away for a few hours next week for a silent mini-retreat, to pay attention to God’s love for us. All of us know that we need ‘filling up’.
Of course it could be easy to get out of balance the other way, too. To enjoy soaking up love, without really letting it spill over to others. I had a conversation last week with someone who was wondering if it was ultimately selfish to enjoy making other people happy. She recognised that making others happy actually made her happy; was that OK? The more we spoke we realised that happiness and joy and love and hope don’t really work like that. They aren’t like other commodities that run out or have a limited supply. They really can’t be selfishly hoarded away - even if we try. Sharing them expands them.
Jesus says in John 4 that ‘whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life. This water of life is for all of us who are thirsty. It is free and will never run dry. Receive it. Give it. Repeat.