The Guts to Love
We pray all of these things in the name of your son Jesus, who had the guts to love…
So concluded a prayer spoken together by a handful of inmates and a few of us volunteers at a support group at the local jail that I am a part of on Monday mornings. The guts to love. What an interesting phrase, I thought. I suspect the word “guts” conjures up for us ideas of courage or resolve or a willingness to keep going even when it would be easier to turn back or a refusal to care if others think love is weak or impotent or whatever. It evokes this image of someone who has dug down into the deepest part of themselves and of the world and emerged with love. The guts to love. Yeah, I like that.
And it does take “guts” to love. It takes guts to keep leaning into love as the lens through which one looks at the world, as one’s primary mode of being in the world.
On Saturday morning I was in Edmonton speaking at a study conference on faith and belief. I had been trying to make the entirely unoriginal case that love was an expression of faith—that it was perhaps the primary category through which we should think about faith, rather than loading up on a hyper-cognitive approach to faith that equates it with assenting to a bunch of propositions about God. The group assembled was an intellectually vibrant and engaged bunch. Their questions, observations, and comments were keen and insightful. Many spoke from long experience navigating the contours of faith, hope, and love. Some had made enormous personal sacrifices to inject love into their communities. Some had been through dark valleys of doubt and heartache. Some had spent years exploring the very outer reaches of what human beings can know and wrestling with how it all fits together with the God of love. Some were fathers standing at the gate, waiting for their prodigals to come home.
It takes guts to love. It takes guts to love our way into faith and to be faithful to love’s call.
The scene was a bit different this morning. A handful of men in prison jumpsuits. Shuffling feet between plastic chairs, occasional awkward silences, honest confessions of mistakes made and dead end roads, of temporary victories followed by longer spirals downward. We talked about the masks we wear, about needing to protect our reputations, about the instinct to want to feel more important than we are. I told them that sometimes when I get in front of rooms full of brainy people I get scared when I don’t know the answers. I told them that I often try to say something—anything!—that comes to mind to make myself look smart, to protect the image. They smiled and shuffled their feet. I mumbled a silent prayer for these guys who had the guts to come to a support group with plastic chairs and strangers, to lower their defenses and say, “I need to walk in a different way. Or at least I want to try.”
Yeah, it takes guts to love. It takes guts to try to love ourselves and our neighbours enough to change. It takes guts to be honest. It takes guts to tolerate awkward silences long enough for something like transparency to emerge.
It takes guts to do pretty much anything that matters, whether it’s struggling to understand and live out a coherent faith or walking into a tiny room with plastic chairs and lowering your defenses.