How can I be a life-giving presence in a world that is so desperate for love and compassion? How can I even begin to serve the broken people whom I hear and read about? Dallas Willard, spiritual leader and author of many important books on spiritual formation, comments that “it is very important to understand that the command [love your neighbor] is not to love everyone. God does. You can’t even begin to. Love can only be specific, and love cannot exceed our resources.” That reassurance is priceless to devoted Christ-followers who sometimes bear guilt about not loving or doing enough.
So the question is “How can my love become specific?” How do we stop trying to “exceed our resources?” Persian poet and theologian, Rumi* (1207-1273) has some beautiful images to help us here.
Be a lamp or a lifeboat or a ladder. Help someone’s soul heal. Walk out of your house like a shepherd” (Rumi).
Be a lamp – Think a minute about the purpose of a lamp or light. What does a lamp do? It turns darkness into light. It helps you find your way. It can enhance fellowship. It can make a place safer. Some lamps are works of art; they beautify their surroundings. Every day we can look to light someone’s path, share knowledge, give direction, and inspire lives of beauty. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father” (Matt 5:16; NIV). The light we bring reflects the love of God.
Be a lifeboat – the purpose of a life boat is to rescue. As God’s lifeboats we can ensure the liberation of others. We can also make sure we are inclusive. God’s lifeboats are for all people; we can make room in our lifeboat for anyone who needs relief. We can help others ride out their stormy seas.
Be a ladder – a ladder helps a person climb. Who do you know who is “climbing” and needs your support? A ladder is used to rescue someone who seems beyond help. Have you given up on someone who could benefit from your love and care? For example, at times it seems as though the three teens I support through Compassion International have so many strikes against them that they are beyond help. But with God in the equation, no one is beyond help.
Lamps, lifeboats, ladders. All of these are symbols of the ways we can help others heal. Rumi concludes this poetic line by encouraging us to walk out of our houses “as shepherds.” A shepherd is someone who provides for the needs of others. Someone who can see the way ahead and lead in the right direction. Someone whose rod and staff create safe boundaries. Someone who knows others by name – personally and deeply. Shepherds light the way, rescue from harm, and support those persons or those causes that seem beyond our help. There is no more important role for a Christian to play in a world that becomes more and more angry, vengeful and hate-filled every day.
* Rumi was a Muslim scholar and poet who took Islam seriously, but the depth of his spiritual vision goes beyond sectarianism. According to Professor Majid M. Naini, “Rumi’s life and transformation provide true testimony and proof that people of all religions and backgrounds can live together in peace and harmony. Rumi’s visions, words, and life teach us how to reach inner peace and happiness so we can finally stop the continual stream of hostility and hatred and achieve true global peace and harmony.”
Shahram Shiva, performance artist and Rumi translator, asserts that “Rumi is able to verbalize the highly personal and often confusing world of personal growth and development in a very clear and direct fashion. He does not offend anyone, and he includes everyone…. Today Rumi’s poems can be heard in churches, synagogues, Zen monasteries, as well as in the downtown New York art/performance/music scene” (Wikipedia).