Love Thy Neighbor

 

Goodies

This morning, our neighbors left these gifts on our front porch. They have a beautiful garden and raise bees. Every year they share their bounty with us. They are ideal neighbors, and we are grateful for the kindness they have extended in many different ways – everything from inviting us to church to occasionally taking care of our pets and allowing us to borrow tools. They truly epitomize the commandment, “Love thy neighbor” (Mark 12:31).

When Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” he wasn’t only referring to the people next door. He meant all people. The commandment is second in importance only behind “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). Loving God means we must also love people. And what a challenge that can sometimes be!

Once, I loved others so effortlessly, but when I was bullied, I lost trust in people. As a result, I self-protected by isolating myself, often saying things like, “I love people, but I don’t like people,” “people suck,” “girls are mean,” and, “I love animals more than people.”

Have you ever found yourself saying the same kinds of things? From where do those thoughts stem? Do you desire to honor God in the highest through your thoughts and actions?  I have heard these kinds of comments from many others who have also been hurt and bullied. I totally understand if it’s easier to converse with your dog or to wrap yourself in the walls of your quiet home than it is for you to deal with difficult people. Mean people are everywhere. It is Satan’s aim to use them to overwhelm our minds, separate us, harden our hearts, and doubt goodness in others. Many of us fall into his trap. That’s why we need to be reminded that there are also friendly, helpful people everywhere, and we can experience them when we set our eyes on “the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13).

Loving others isn’t always easy. It requires intentional choice, commitment, patience, effort, and forgiveness, and it is a reminder to work harder on growing our character than anyone else’s. Regardless of others’ callousness or kindness, when we strive to serve people how Jesus served people, when we value people as we desire to be valued, we honor him when we honor them. And although we are to love people without expecting anything in return, it’s nice how God shows us love is worth the work. For me, it often comes after I’ve stepped outside of my relational comforts, and this time, love circled back around and ended up on my front porch in the form of homegrown produce. It’s always uplifting to receive a message that tells us someone cares.

We reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7). What seeds of love can you plant and share today?

Dirty

Stronger Than Bullying

I was born to move. The first time I stood, I danced. I grew up fully utilizing our country acreage to ride my bike, swing from grapevines, roll down hills, and swim. When I was nine years old, I began playing basketball. Throughout adolescence, it became my primary focus. I simply loved the game and never tired of it, that is, until the bitter ending of my high school career.

As a freshman in college, my perspective of team dynamics and my identity as a player had changed. It was then that I gave up ball to pursue a higher calling for my life, but I never threw in the towel on fitness. My drive for physical and mental achievement remained ignited. My discipline transferred from the basketball court to the weight room, where strength and performance training became my emotional outlet, my escape from unpleasant memories, and my confidence booster. I learned I could release negative feelings, the echo of someone’s harsh words, or my mistakes through a single rep, heavier weight, increased intensity, or a sprint. Afterward, my body always felt lighter, and my burdens lifted. I exercised this way for several years, but I started developing an unhealthy pattern of associating angry, negative thoughts with exercise. As long as I continued to workout driven by memories of bullying, I would only produce short-term, unfulfilling results. I preferred exercise represent happiness, strength, and triumph for the long-run. So I made some changes that still serve me well today. I share them with you in hopes they might benefit you too.

Consider the purpose of exercising, not only the fact that it helps relieve stress and lower your blood pressure but how fitness can serve as a tool for you to become stronger than bullying.

I discovered this for myself by dedicating my workouts to God, to my family, or to someone I know or imagine who isn’t able to do what the Lord has abled me to do. For me, exercise goes far beyond proving others wrong, the world’s standard of attractiveness, or even any physiological benefit. It represents the Spirit of the Lord within me and gaining a crown that will last forever (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

Before I start each workout, I choose to make the most of the next hour. I take ownership of a positive attitude, turn on upbeat, lyrically inspiring music, and visualize how I will perform and finish.

Throughout, I incorporate meditation and prayer. When my muscles are burning, and I start to feel weak, I close my eyes and breathe in the power of the Holy Spirit. I envision Jesus on the Cross and repeatedly tell myself things like, “He died for me. Surely, I can hold this wall-sit for another 20 seconds.” He helps me complete each rep, set, step, and stride—proof that I can break through my self-imposed limitations. I can better control my body by allowing God to control my heart and mind, especially when I face challenges.

Wall Sit

When I consider all of the moments I could quit or fail, I realize the only reason I keep going is that his strength is within me. Because of this, I carry my energy and victories throughout the rest of my day and utilize them as a source of encouragement for others. Through exercise, God has shown me not only am I stronger than the experiences that try to knock me down but also that I am more than capable of lifting life’s weights and clearing life’s hurdles. Movement was a gift he gave me from the very beginning, and, in developing that gift through the years, it has become one of the areas I feel most connected to him and most capable of helping others.

Regardless of your fitness or athletic background, you too can use exercise to build resiliency and gain peace, self-confidence, and strength. In what ways can exercise serve purpose for you, support your wellbeing, and enhance your faith?