Love stretches the soul.
When was the last time that love stretched your soul? Reached inside your heart and pulled it outside for exposure, for adventure, for remembrance, for renewal? How long has it been since you left the safety of your carefully constructed, four-walls in order to explore the world that’s been waiting for you just beyond the back stoop? When did love last remind you that your world is too small, too guarded, too inward, too stuck?
Love stretched my soul over this past week. Love carried me some 500 miles northwest through stormy weather to land me safely in the arms of a friend who’s been walking this journey with me for nearly twenty years. She’s a native to the small town where I spent a few of my yesterdays… five years’ worth of my yesterdays.
Our friendship began on a hot summer night in the sanctuary of my small church. Parents from the church and the community had gathered to hear about their children’s adventures during our annual Vacation Bible School. As part of a follow-up program designed to target un-churched families, we visited several homes in order to extend personal invitations to come and worship with our growing congregation. One of those homes belonged to my friend, Juanita. From that moment forward until today (nearly nineteen years later), I don’t suppose she and her family have missed many Sundays at that church. That’s a lot of Sundays, friends. And while I’ve not actively worshipped with her for most of those nineteen years, we’ve shared an active friendship throughout the course of that time.
Some told us that our friendship wouldn’t last… that miles and time would be enough to separate the deep bond that we share. They were wrong. Yes, miles and time have separated us in a way that neither of us wanted, but our friendship is just as real and certain as it has always been. Last week’s visit held the proof. It was as if (you could probably finish this sentence for me)… we’d never been apart.
We laughed, cried, ripped up the roads down through Amish country. We stopped for cheese bread, apple fritters, and chocolate-covered peanuts and raisins from Walnut Creek’s Coblentz Store. We dined on broasted chicken from Der Dutchman and roast beef from The Amish Door, as well as shared a table of tortillas with three of the Drake sisters (Juanita’s sisters). We even caught a viewing of Courageous. Yes, we crammed a lot of living into a few days, and then we hugged our good-byes at the airport.
It’s never easy saying good-bye to my friend, and this time around was particularly difficult for me. I’ve spent a couple of days mulling it over, and here’s what I’m thinking.
Love has stretched my soul. Love moved me beyond my borders and landed me smack dab in the middle of humanity. For the first time in a long time, I spent a few days living in the real world—a world separated from the safety zone I’ve carefully created for myself over the past year. Last week, I exposed my heart and made it vulnerable to outside influences. In doing so, I became painfully aware of how closed-off I’ve become. It’s not a good fit with my heart.
God didn’t save me to bury me. God saved me to release me. To release Him. To be a soul so stretched by the power of love that a kingdom bridge between heaven and earth might emerge as a footpath for those who fill up my days. For those who linger with me through the dark nights. I want to be that bridge… God’s active participant in the world. A heart anchored in heaven, yet a heart unafraid to linger a while longer in the setting I’ve been given.
Love is a game-changer, friends. God’s stretching love for us changed the world and forever planted a bridge between heaven and earth so that we might find the footpath that leads to home. If God had remained closed off to his world, kept his Son safe from the world, then you and I would know nothing of grace and heaven. God would be there, and we would remain here. As it is, Love came down, planted a cross, and secured a forever for each one of us. Loved stretched far and wide, long and deep, encompassing a world-view that best fits with God’s heart. Two thousand years ago God hit the roads with his Son and his story, and now he’s entrusted us with the same mission.
Love stretches the soul. Indeed, it has moved me to a better place this past week. Love put me in the path of humanity in a way that best fits with my heart. As I move forward from here, as I try to put traction to my thinking, I do so knowing and believing that love is a strong motivator for change. Love has the capacity to stretch my soul and to put it within arm’s reach of great, kingdom influence. It has the capacity to do the same for you.
Would you be willing to allow love to move you to a deeper place of surrender, a deeper place of influence this week? It’s time for some of you to come out of hiding, plant your feet and your heart along the footpath of humanity in order to stretch the influence of Jesus outward to those who still need to hear the greatest love story ever told. In doing so, you’ll be stretched… perhaps uncomfortably so. But all worthy love stories… lasting love stories… are stretching ones.
Reach deeper, friends, pull harder, stretch further… all for the love of Jesus this week. You are God’s game-charger in this world. Even so, keep to it. As always…
Peace for the journey,