Sometimes, you read a quote that makes you stop dead in your tracks and search for words to express your admiration. (For me, these heartfelt tributes usually come out as, “Whoa.”) Last week, I found one of those quotes. Annie Dillard, who is brilliant basically all the time, wrote an essay in the New York Times that ends with this paragraph:
“One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now…Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”
Yep. That one. Right there.
“You open the safe and find ashes.”
The jolting, catch-your-breath paradox of that statement reminded me of another of similar length: “For whoever would save his life will lose it.” Because it’s not just about writing. It’s about how you live. You can hoard more than a perfect line of dialogue.
Let me give an example. Two weeks ago, I went to the last summer ministry event from a church I don’t actually attend (long-ish story). I came armed with cookies and water balloons and the names of three dozen kids I may never see again. And I ate food and laughed too loudly and gave hugs and said goodbyes.
But almost didn’t go at all, not to that night, but to the first Wednesday at the beginning of the summer. On that day, I jotted down a pro and con list on a neon green Post-It note to decide whether I would show up. On the “con” side was a neat bulleted list.
- What if I don’t know anyone there?
- Why bother meeting people when I’ll leave almost as soon as I really get to know them?
- Maybe I need to spend my time doing other things.
- What if people think it’s weird that I’m there? Or they find out that I’m weird?
- What if I end up sitting awkwardly by myself like Charlie Brown on the playground?
On the “pro” side was written only one thing: Do I really believe it’s worth choosing love over fear?
Well then. I guess the “pros” have it. (Sometimes I hate it when I up the theological stakes on myself like that.)
So I went. Because I thought back to that mission trip where I avoided playing with the kids because I knew I would leave them in a few days. Because I remembered the dorm full of people who became my family with only one year of college left to go. Because my high school choir teacher’s words always stuck with me—“I see so many seniors who start pushing people away to make it easier for them to leave. They’d never admit it…but it’s because they’re afraid.”
Somewhere along the way I learned that it’s always, always worth the risk to love people. That you show up and care about as many people as you can for as long as you’re put in their path.
I don’t always act like I believe this. Sometimes—often—I hold back. I don’t introduce myself to the person on the plane. I don’t go over to meet the new couple at church. I don’t ask a follow-up to “How are you?” or send that letter or ask if we can have coffee sometime. I run away and lock my love in a safe, to be withdrawn as ashes later, with an interest of regret.
Maybe I need more Post-It notes. Maybe I need to wallpaper my life with colorful little reminders of what’s really important.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.” –Luke 10:27
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.” –C.S. Lewis
“In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen…The original definition of courage was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.”
Love with all you have. Spend it all. Die empty. Better, end each day empty, because the Christian life isn’t only about the one day you stand before God. It’s about all the days in between, the plain-vanilla routine things you do or don’t do without thinking—the way you treated those immortal beings disguised as passersby and waitresses and kids sitting alone on the playground and acquaintances who always say “fine.”
It’s about how we love them, and how we love God through loving them. That’s the real investment, the one that’ll be worth something in the end.