September 11, 2023
I think Michael's bought and handed out at least 40 or more of Mike Mason's book, Practicing the Presence of People. It's a book that slows you down, makes you think, convicts you and yet draws you into a place where you know you want to learn how to love and pause in the moment to see the beauty of the face of each person as made in God's image - including those who are hard to love.
Michael and I both gather with a few - he with men and me with women, in a garden at the farm, we enjoy organic conversations over a chapter in the book. In my intimate gathering - we simply open to the table of contents and see what might draw us, speak to us and from there, simply begin reading that chapter. Most times, we never get far - there's to much to have heart conversation over. It's always spoke from a personal note. Real. Raw. Beautiful. Healing.
Michael's guy group meets weekly on Thursday mornings. Text him if you want to know more. My group, with a few women, meets every other week. This group is closed. Until another group begins, you begin a group. Make it simple. Make it personal, make it real. Practice the presence of each other.
Mike Mason writes:
Thus practicing the presence of people will transform all our relationships, and to the extent that it does not, we simply need more practice. All the people in our lives have been given to us so that we might grow in love. For this reason, we can truly give thanks for whatever relational difficulties we face. For love is the ultimate goal of life, the central purpose; nothing is more important. And love doesn’t just happen, it is learned, through one step, one choice, one realization at a time.
So loving people is a kind of prayer. Like prayer it is a calling out, a desire, an opening, a sacrifice, an enjoyment. We need a view of human love that preserves the sacredness of people, and if this sounds sacrilegious, it’s because it almost is. To love well, we need to approach the same self-abandonment we have with God. Being with people is holy ground; it calls for taking off our shoes: our hardness, our defensiveness, our means of retreat, all our self-protective weaponry. We cannot love without laying everything on the line.
Why does it seem so hard to love? Why does the real thing so often elude us? Why don’t we just claim this treasure and enjoy it?
One reason is that we do not really believe love is permitted. A little taste of love here and there––yes, that’s fine. But to make love the central purpose of our lives, to build everything else around it to the point of filling entire days, hour after hour, with nothing but love––why, such a life would be unthinkably idealistic. It would be just plain silly.
Don’t we have other business to attend to, other matters more pressing? What does love have to do with finances, with meeting deadlines, with going to the dentist or to the unemployment office? The world is not about love, for heaven’s sake! Love has its place, but it mustn’t be allowed to run our lives. If we must have love, then let it be a little fling here and there, or else something pragmatic, hard-working, goal-oriented.
But what if fulfilling Jesus’ two Great Commandments––to love God and to love people––might actually be fun, relaxing, renewing, exhilarating? And what if we could enjoy love not only now and then but as a way of life? What if we uncorked the bottle and let love loose in our lives? If love pure and simple were ever permitted to rule the world––why, think what would happen!
This is the whole problem. Love, if allowed free rein, would overthrow the world system as we know it. Nothing could stand in its way. Everything would topple like a house of cards: stock markets, governments, crime, shopping malls, banks, careers, on and on.
Isn’t this what we’re all afraid of? Aren’t we terrified of our little world caving in around us? But the destruction of the world by love is the goal of the gospel. The gospel is a license to love. It is a unilateral declaration that from now on there is only one law: the law of love. All other laws, all other organizing principles, all other systems of morality have been superceded. There is no longer any need to live for anything but pure love. The gospel is the granting of full permission to devote ourselves unashamedly to this foolishness. No longer is there the slightest justification for pursuing any other goal.
My friend Mike Tronson went through a long period of unemployment. During this time he was plagued by insecurity, doubts, questions. What was he to do with all the time on his hands? Without working, how was he to justify his existence?
One Sunday his pastor happened to say, “When you’re praying, do you ever just pause and ask God to speak to you?”
A few days later Mike was outside in his garden, praying. Once again his thoughts were taken up with the difficulties of unemployment. But suddenly recalling his pastor’s comment, Mike paused and asked God to speak to him. Immediately the Lord said, “This is a time to focus on your wife and children. Learn to love them more deeply. Work is of very little importance to Me. What’s important to Me is people.”
This thought washed over Mike with a great wave of freshness and relief. God had given him a job! Instead of feeling anxious about not having work, now he was free to focus on the most important work of all. He had just been given permission to love.