German has a way with words. Whether it is krankenwagon (ambulance) or schmeterling (butterfly), German words invoke a strong sense of emotion. Things like zeitgeist, angst, wunderkind, and doppelgänger all have found their way into daily use in our language. I think that may be the reason so many German words end up being used to express these strong emotions in the western world. Along those lines, I think I have found a German word that speaks to our time: Lebensmüde. “Lebensmüde is a compound noun made up of the words Leben (life) and müde (tired), it therefore translates to ‘life tired’ and describes the feeling of being tired or weary of life.”
I have been on vacation for the past two weeks, the longest vacation I have taken since I began my journey of ministry. While looking at various cultural and historical places and items in New England, I found myself occasionally drifting back to the church and wondering. I thought about how the first six months I was here, I chose to observe and ask questions of people about where they thought the church was at. After asking those questions, it seemed there was a need for rest. After all, the church had spent the better part of the last two decades working hard to pay of debts on building loans by every reasonable means necessary while facing a dwindling number of participants. We took a little time to assess and evaluate and had just begun to put some pieces together when the Covid-19 pandemic made its way to our shores. For the next eighteen months, ministry was limited to online means and people checking on their neighbors by phone or text as we all tried to stay healthy and safe. We’ve only just recently begun to see light with vaccinations being available this year and now the Delta variant of the virus has driven our numbers up again. And that doesn’t even take into consideration the political landscape that has infected our country along side the biological threat.
That is where our German word, Lebensmüde, comes in. We are a people who are life tired. We are tired of dealing with the disease, tired of dealing with politics, tired of all these things that seem to get in the way of life and the living of it. To borrow a line from the 1970’s movie Network, we are mad as heck and we’re not going to take it anymore. But really, we aren’t mad so much as tired. Like toddlers who are in need of a nap and raving about having to take one, we are exhausted by our circumstances and unable or unwilling to rest. We are tired of the things in our lives that have kept us from our lives. And instead of dealing with the greater issue, we have politicized it and taken it out on each other. We have turned to the age old us versus them mantra and gone after those who differ in opinion with us in the church and in the world.
So, what is the solution for the world and the church?
Live above it. Live above the unrest by resting in the one thing that the Bible says repeatedly overcomes such things: love. Paul devotes an entire section on the subject in the midst of explaining spiritual gifts to the Corinthians. He says that love is the one thing that is powerful enough to change the minds and hearts of the world around us when they see it in us. He culminates the section saying, “Now faith, hope, and love remain—these three things—and the greatest of these is love.” The writer of First Peter says, “Finally, all of you be of one mind, sympathetic, lovers of your fellow believers, compassionate, and modest in your opinion of yourselves. Don’t pay back evil for evil or insult for insult. Instead, give blessing in return. You were called to do this so that you might inherit a blessing.” In fact, no matter what religion you look at, love for neighbor is a major component. You cannot be a spiritual person in any way without learning to love and respect those around you.
What does this look like in practice?
It is letting go.
Let go of the need to defend what you think is right. I know, it sounds just the opposite of what many of us have heard for most of our lives. In fact, it almost sounds anti-biblical. After all, doesn’t the same chapter of First Peter also say, “Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it.”? It does. But the word for defend (apologia) means to offer an explanation for why you believe what you do, not an all out assault on a person’s religion, politics, and personal character. Defending still falls under “Love God, love neighbor” and must be done with those things in mind. If you cannot love first, you cannot defend because the very thing you are defending is ultimately the love of God for all of Creation.
So, we must be able to let go. Let go of the fear behind the vitriol. Let go of the anger born out of that fear. Let go of the need to be right in order to feel safe. Let go of anything that does not first love. John Wesley was famous for saying,
…although a difference in opinions or modes of worship may prevent an entire external union, yet need it prevent our union in affection? Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences. These remaining as they are, they may forward one another in love and in good works.
Being ‘life-tired’ is no excuse for failing to be good disciples. If we cannot love, we cannot be be Christ-like. If we cannot be Christ-like, we are no longer children of God (see most of 1 John). Let us move forward in love, letting go of the fear, embracing the love of God, and living above the conflict and unrest of our time, never forgetting to love our neighbors no matter who they may be or what they may think.
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