Last Christmas, my dad, Joey Bonifacio, gave me a book entitled King’s Cross by Timothy Keller, to Joseph, he gave a book on the Coca Cola company. For a moment I thought he had mistakenly switched his gifts. Everyone knows that religious books go to Joe and the business books go to me. I was even tempted to trade with Joe. Just goes to show how UN-interested I was in reading more about “churchy” stuff.
But as I started reading the book, the words started speaking to me in a new way, and as I read the verses included, it came to me so fresh and alive, not the way a manual instructs us, which is what everyone told me the Bible was: a manual for life, but something more. All of a sudden the pages seemed like letters, infused with passion, stained with tears and love, full of emotions of pain, of pleading, of hope, of faith, of rejection, of anger, of mercy, but most of all, of love.
It wasn’t a manual. It was a love letter.
It wasn’t a book of examples on “how-to-live”. No. It was collection of romances and adventures. It was God telling His lover, “You have to see the view from up here. Come up. Come up.”
All of a sudden, it hit me. I had been going about this whole thing wrong, and no wonder I kept failing. No wonder fear came over me so quickly when there was a threat. No wonder my anger rose so high when I felt offended. No wonder I fell so frequently to temptation. No wonder I became so proud with achievement. No wonder the condemnation lasted so long.
I had a system of beliefs, a religion, but I was missing the important ingredient that made this particular religion special. I was missing the Love of Jesus. This is why we say Christianity is more than a religion, it is a relationship.
I had not fallen in love.
That is why church, religion, spirituality, or whatever you want to call it, didn’t satisfy me. It couldn’t. I’m hard to satisfy as it is with my constant need to go deeper, to try more, to experience, and this empty religion wasn’t just unsatisfying, it was frustrating.
And of course it is. It’s like playing a game you’re never going to win – and getting punished every time you lose.
No one falls in love with losing every day.
What do we fall in love with?
We fall for beauty.
And what is beauty?
It is an assemblage of graces, of excellences, or an assemblage of properties in the form of the person or any other object, which pleases.
I like how Marie-Henri Beyle (better known as Stendhal) put it, “la promesse de bonheur” or “the promise of happiness.”
We fall in love with people, with things, that promise us satisfaction. Those who satisfy our eyes we call them beautiful. The music that pleases our ears we call beautiful as well. There are beautiful feelings, beautiful moments, beautiful scenes, beautiful tastes, and beautiful memories, all pleasing to experience.
Yet these were not the experiences I associated with Christianity or church. With family and friends, yes, but not religion.
A good indicator that we are simply being religious is this: We feel safer because we break less rules and we feel more satisfied with our personal performance, yet we are less willing to open our hearts to receiving and giving love.
So I took an honest look at my religion, and it was this: I was a spiritual slut. I knew that good behaviour brought blessing, and blessing brought comfort and security. So I worked my best to deserve the blessing. I exchanged myself for the benefits. I also knew that bad or wrong behaviour resulted in shame, in missed destinies, in pain, in being ostracised, in loss of trust, so I just dealt with my bad things as quietly as I could. I would read the Bible to see what I had to do to look as pretty as I could, so that I could walk the alley, attract me a blessing, and avoid the cops when I did wrong. Religious people make amazing cops by the way, yet so blinded by our own planks.
I don’t think a prostitute goes home satisfied. Neither was I.
Fortunately, God knows where to find the soul again, as the author, Victor Hugo, put so well. He really does.
This Is Who He Is
I probably have two more blog posts for the rest of 2012, this one and one for New Year. My simple encouragement for us this Christmas is this:
Fall in love.
How? That’s a good question. It’s a great question. No one can be forced to fall in love. We can neither force ourselves. We truly have to fall. (Which is why I find it so silly that people think we can process love into people. We can process the motions of loving acts but love cannot be manufactured. It has to bloom.)
How do we fall? How do we fall for anything?
Gaze at His beauty.
And what makes Him beautiful? What are His graces and excellences? Let me share the little that my small mind can conceive.
Here is a person who had His life completely at its best. Full comfort. Full satisfaction. Full fellowship. All power. All authority. Yet He offered His life for breaking, that my broken life may be offered love. He doesn’t want me standing in the alley. He wants me walking down the aisle. He doesn’t want me performing for tips. He wants me dancing with Him. He doesn’t need me to read four chapters a day. He wants to remind me of His love. He doesn’t need me to do anything for Him, how arrogant of me to even think that the Creator is hostage to me, but He does want me so badly, that He laid down His life for mine. And He loves me so much that He promised, “You may walk away from me, but I will never walk away from you.”
What a beautiful person. What a promise of Happiness.
I’m convinced I didn’t fall sooner because I was too busy looking at everyone else and at the mirror. I wasn’t looking at Him.
You Just Know
I used to ask people, “How do you know if you’re in love? I’m not talking about emotions or feelings. How do you know that you are truly crazy madly in love?”
Some would give me classifications that didn’t seem to stand under scrutiny, but there was one answer that always baffled me, that I thought was extremely stupid and useless, “You just know.”
Now I think I understand what that means, and I believed it is this:
Once and for all you’re convinced that you love this person.
For us, lovers of Christ, it is this, once and for all we are convinced that we are loved. Period.
(You may read my exploration on this thought in another post I wrote entitled You Are Loved.)
As I look back, I realize how proud I was, and pride makes us foolish, thinking I was earning His love when I was really pushing away His embrace. I was trying so hard to make myself beautiful For Him, when I was already beautiful To Him. When I reflect even deeper, a lot of that was driven to prove myself to myself and to others, that I could deserve something beautiful.
When talking about this with my dad, I asked him, “Do you love mom?” He said instantly, “Yes. What kind of a question is that?” I followed this up with a “I don’t believe you. Why were you impatient with her the other day?” He looked at me sensing a point, and the point was this:
It’s not so important whether I think my dad loves my mom. What is important is that he knows he loves her and, equally important, is that she knows he loves her. It’s not so important that their friends think they’re compatible, or the church gives its approval, and especially not the opinion of strangers.
This is what is important: Does my dad love her? Does my mom know it, does she feel it because my dad has done everything he can to communicate that?
Sometimes we burden our relationship with God trying to convince everyone we’re “Christian” through our behaviours and achievements. We’re trying to show people we deserve blessings and a good life. How much of our effort is really geared towards securing ourselves and the approval of others? How much of our time and energy truly goes to enjoying our Lover?
I saw a read a great reminder to stop living this way from the author Paulo Coelho who wrote, One is loved because one is loved. Don’t ask a stupid “why me?”
Do we love God? Do we really know that He loves us?
Or are we still trying to deserve it? Are we still asking, “why me?”
I hope this Christmas, you will let Him show you His love. That you will not miss His gift to you looking at all the other gifts. That you will not miss His presence amidst the presents or lack of. That you will not close your eyes to the dark circumstances and miss His star. I pray that you will stop trying to deserve a beauty you’re already free to enjoy. Most of all, I pray that you will fall in love this Christmas with He who loves you most.