Lessons of Advent
Henri Nouwen, in his book, In the Name of Jesus, wrote, “What makes the temptation of power so seemingly irresistible? Maybe it is that power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love. It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life.”
When my oldest son reached middle school, I remember naively thinking, “I think this parenting thing is going to be a lot harder than I thought.” I realized that things were going to be messy. Anyone with authority and influence (teachers, parents, leaders) face the ongoing temptation to exert excessive control in the lives of people around them. That temptation increases exponentially when we begin to encounter obstacles and frustrations. I really want my students to grow in self control or my faculty to be more patient with their struggling students. If these people just did what I said, all would be well. I have a plan. It seems like it will work. It has to work. But it doesn’t.
Nouwen offers something profound that all Christian people should heed. The temptations toward power and control are so embedded in our lives we can hardly discern them. From technology to money to influence, we so easily lapse into the belief that we are really forging our own way. Yet, to love something, we must yield to it. For something to flourish, it must be properly and patiently tended and stewarded. This is true of nature, the resources we manage, and most of all, the people we see, love, and serve. As a parent or teacher, I can become detached from the relationship and seek the outcomes at any cost. My frustrations expose my motives that what I really want is to impose my will on the people and things around me. This is the “easy substitute for the hard task of love.”
Augustine tells us, “patience is the companion of wisdom.” The most valuable things in life require time, attention, patience, and sacrifice. They require love. There are no shortcuts. There are no efficiencies of scale – just the slow, steady resolve to do the right, hard things over a long period of time. We are not only the agents of change in the lives of others. As those called to shape the hearts of others, we too are being formed. We must love others, not control them.
Advent, if anything, teaches us these remarkable and irrefutable lessons. Let us heed them and remember that the long, expected Jesus loves us through the gentle movement of Spirit. Lord, “by thine own eternal Spirit, rule in all our hearts alone.”