Self-Emptying Love – A Stewardship Witness
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself…
Three years ago I had a breakdown. When it happened I was sitting at home in front of the computer doing some writing when I began to cry. Tears became sobs and eventually my body was convulsing as I wept uncontrollably. This went on for five to ten minutes. I remember looking in the mirror and asking, what is happening to me?
Since then I have realized I am on a journey. A journey that started about nine years ago, and one I will continue on likely for the remainder of my life.
It was nine years ago I lost my job with a financial firm when it decided my coverage area was no longer needed. We had recently moved to Wellesley and bought a mortgage (aka house). Katie was about seven months pregnant with our second daughter, Ella. This reality pushed me to begin looking for a new job in earnest.
About this time my father in-law was diagnosed with advanced Multiple Myeloma, and began chemo treatment. While I did what I could to support Katie and her father, I remained distracted by the job hunt.
Then everything changed. Katie’s youngest brother, Kevin, went missing while on a hike to the summit of Mt. Baker in Washington. Katie and her father could not travel out there to help with the search and Katie’s mother and I were bound to the home. Katie’s other brother flew out with a friend to help with the search.
For two weeks our world was the fifteen by twenty foot living room in my in-laws house, waiting for the phone to ring.
This dark place is where God’s light reached. Katie’s parents have always been devoted to their church. Katie and her brothers grew up going to church twice on Sunday. Throughout these two weeks, as our family sat incapacitated in this living room, a constant flow of people from the church brought food into the home and shared their presence with us. We were never alone, and I can’t tell you how much their presence meant to all of us.
Kevin’s body was never found and eventually the search was called off. We slowly moved forward, still in a dark place.
God’s light penetrated again shortly thereafter. In one weekend, we celebrated my brother’s wedding, Ella’s birth, and miraculously Katie received an excellent job offer. After two years at home for Katie, we agreed it was best that I stay at home for a year with the girls while Katie re-started her career.
Well, one year turned into five pretty quickly. While tough in some ways, I loved the opportunity to connect and remain present in my daughters’ lives.
As the girls grew older I began volunteering at their school and in town, loving the chance to connect with the community and help. To my surprise, I found I received much from volunteering by giving of myself. The more of myself I gave, the more fulfilled I felt.
As my fulfillment grew, I had more energy and the world appeared clearer. My daughters, now in grade school, showed an interest in writing and so I began to write, not knowing where it would lead. Every morning I sequestered myself for an hour or two. I would research topics like quantum physics, cosmology and neurology. The ideas sparked from this research allowed words to flow out in the writing. The first draft of the novel was written in less than a year.
Then, it happened. My breakdown.
As I questioned myself in the mirror a thought emerged. I needed help. Help to see what it was in the writing that led to my breakdown. I turned to Village Church and asked Pastoral Resident John Allen to read the work and tell me what he saw.
What he presented back astounded me. He gave me readings on early Christianity, a 20th century Jewish philosopher, as well as various passages from the Bible. These topics echoed the themes in my story of a God who interpenetrates this world.
My journey then led me to a Franciscan monk, Richard Rohr. Later, while accompanying Katie on her business travels I found myself unintentionally inside the center of spiritual leader Deepak Chopra in California, which wove in eastern religion teachings. A separate business trip last year took us inside the Vatican itself and the nearby catacombs.
Each of these milestones in the journey reinforced the idea of humbleness, selflessness as a way to transformation. Recently, it was through studying the Trinity the term “self-emptying love” presented itself.
Self – that part of us which is caught up in this reality, with its need to perpetuate life with all the distractions of this world.
Self-emptying – implying a flow that must happen through which we freely put others first, humble ourselves.
Self-emptying love – a virtuous flow with God that allows for true fulfillment and transformation.
A few lessons from my journey so far.
Two obvious ones:
The first is that there are many worthy ways through which you can empty your “self.” Your children’s school, medical research like Dana Farber, community involvement, to name a few.
The second is that all these worthy causes require both time and money. Giving both is very much appreciated and needed. The church is no different.
Less obvious lessons are:
Presence with others is powerful. Simply giving your “self” alongside others who are also giving them “selves” opens you up, allows for God’s love to begin to flow. By all of you giving your time to be present here, together, is powerful.
To be on the receiving end of your presence, to receive your selfless love, especially in a time of need, is the best gift. Church is designed to be a conduit for this selfless love.
Donating time and money to the Village Church has proven the most effective self-emptying process for me. This church supports you from birth to death, enables a transformation closer to God, provides comfort when needed, and spiritual guidance throughout.
All the church asks is you engage. Leave as much of your “self” at the door as possible.
Be Open. Be Present.
Yes, there are real world financial obligations the church must meet. But truly, giving to the church is about putting your “self” aside and opening up a window for God to shine his light in. You will be amazed at how fulfilling emptying your “self” can be.
So looking back, I no longer consider it a breakdown. Instead, I see it as an awakening. An awakening to God and what it means to truly Love Thy Neighbor.
Today we launch our stewardship season for 2017. Will you join Katie and me in considering your family’s financial pledge to Village Church for the coming year? Perhaps you might consider opening yourself a bit more this year.
Also, please remember to pick a party, or participate in Parent’s Night Out. Part of the joy of Village Church is in being together and I look forward to spending time with each of you.