It’s a bit of a paradox, isn’t it? Or maybe that’s just Paul. Whatever you call it, the phrase “continue to complete” is what struck me on the first reading of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians 1.4-6, 8-11.
My first thought was that on the spiritual journey, we’re always striving for completion – not so much in the sense of being “finished” or “done”, but “fulfilled” and “made whole”. That can seem a little depressing, to always be working at something that is never finished. There’s such wonderful satisfaction in finishing a long worked-on project.
Ah, but I am not the doer of the action. It is not for me to do the completing. “The One who began a good work in you will continue to complete it”. Well, that’s a bit of a relief. At least I’m off the hook for getting it all finished before “the day of Christ Jesus.” Sort of.
Then Paul gets to the actual substance of his prayer: “that your love may increase ever more and more”. Most of us are keenly aware of the power of love, and the power of love to hurt. Having your heart broken can understandably make you reluctant to open your heart up to love and trust again. From this perspective, Paul’s prayer sounds more like a threat. The more you love, the more you can get hurt.
Maybe. But as the capacity for love grows within us, it not only enlarges our hearts, but it transforms them. And many of the things that used to cause us pain, no longer affect us in the same way. We are no longer so easily offended as our compassion for others becomes our primary concern, rather than the maintenance of our egos. As we continue in this way, we are less susceptible to being tossed around by circumstances, and increasingly at peace during even the most troubling times.
As I began the prayer portion of Lectio, I first was thankful that I didn’t have to do all the work myself. With not a few over-achiever tendencies, I can fall easily into the me-do-it-myself rut. My next thought, after being thankful that I don’t have to do it myself, was something to the effect of “because I’m worthless on my own”. And right then I stopped myself. That’s nonsense. Because I am, because I am a creature of God, I am not worthless. Honestly, that’s hard to admit. I believe things I do are worthwhile and valuable, but as a person I struggle with my sense of self-worth. It’s one of my greatest doubts.
What does it mean to be “complete” then? I think it means to have the very heart of God, and if God is literally full of love and compassion, God must also then be completely devoid of ego. No wonder God is so good at forgiveness.
And that’s when a small miracle of transformation took place, right inside of my own heart. Like the Grinch who stole Christmas, my heart grew a few sizes when it increased in capacity to love myself. When it seems that so much hatred and fear is derived from the brokenness within ourselves, learning to love and forgive ourselves can go a long way to learning to have compassion and love for others.