My little room is cold today. Granted, it’s warmer than the rest of the house. I’m sitting snugly under three heavy blankets, leaning against a heating pad, and trying to appreciate the warmth of a borrowed space heater–but I’m still chilly. I’m thoroughly, uncomfortably, down-to-the-bone chilly. Something about the constant clunking buzz of the small heater’s fan reminds me persistently that it isn’t yet spring, that it won’t be spring for a long while still.
Downstairs, there’s a considerable pile of dirty dishes next to the sink. The floors need sweeping. My clothes need washing. But it’s cold, and I’m lazy, so I sit here and think instead. I think, or I watch a little television, play a game of spider solitaire, contemplate taking a nap … I feel something, but I can’t decide if it’s guilt or just boredom. I could fix that feeling, I think, and I try to work up the motivation to venture down into the frigid kitchen, to do something worthwhile, helpful. But some days, I’m fairly useless.
It’s been almost two months since I had a job. It has been a restful time, and I am grateful. At first especially I reveled in the sanity, the stillness, the freedom to be more fully present to my community, to invest time into things that matter. These things still happen, but now in-between my most fruitful moments, there exist long stretches of “What-should-I-do-today?” where the answer is invariably, “I don’t know …” And so, because it is cold, and because I am lazy, and because I don’t have to do anything, I sit in my room, and I think. I’ll be starting work again soon, as a substitute teacher. It will give structure to my time, and I am grateful.
In the meantime, I’m about as dependent on others as anyone could possibly be. I’m learning what a beautiful, difficult endeavor it is, to be a child. Until today (when my parents graciously offered to pay my bills for the month and supplied my bank account with the necessary funds), I had a total of $0.87 to my name. I have less than 1/4 tank of gas in my car. In addition to my parents’ kindness and care, the people I live with supply me with food, the electricity to make my little space heater run, the shelter of the room I am sitting in, the water I drink and shower in, all the things that keep me alive and comfortable. In all this time, I have never felt a lack of any thing. More than that, they love me, they encourage me, they put up with me, they allow me to fail, and they challenge me to live like Christ.
I feel much more keenly than ever before how indebted I am to this fellowship of others, to my family here and in WV. And sometimes I catch myself wondering how I can make it up to them, feeling anxious about settling this wildly lopsided account, where money and forbearance and love have flown so freely. I think, if only I can just catch up with myself monetarily, then I’ll have something to give back. I tell myself, you really have to go do those dishes, after all, since you’re not doing much else around here. I begin to think of dependence in the purely human terms of give-and-take, retribution, loans and repayments.
But these human terms are not speaking of dependence at all. They connote a hovering, usurious, cold and exacting entity, upon which the debtor is not dependent, but to which he is indentured, always struggling away towards the deceitful freedom of independence. The guilt and humiliation attendant upon this estate are something unknown to one who is truly free in true dependence on another.
Thus we see the beauty of being a child, to whom dependence is humbling, but not humiliating. The child feels no guilt for his utter helplessness, but receives freely, and this very receptivity is just as much a part of hospitality as is freely giving. The child does not seek to repay his vast debts, but instead, he lives in willing and joyful subjection merely to the debt of love towards his benefactors, which is our greatest and only debt to one another.
In Christianity, as in family, there is no balancing of books. The angsty struggle for rights and for independence from our indebtedness to one another is replaced by the glorious recognition of our mutual indebtedness to Christ. This is a debt for which no repayment is possible, and this is a dependence that ought not to be sullied by guilt-ridden human attempts at reparations.
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. – Romans 13:8
And so it would seem that dependence isn’t determined by one’s financial state, by tangible goods given or received, by some system of back-and-forth. Owe no one anything, except to love each other–this is true freedom, true dependence and beneficence. We can never humanly repay the gifts we give each other. Our tangible debts are perhaps able to be reckoned, but they do not concern Christianity. In the presence of Christ’s abundant, unwarranted, merciful love for us, our guilt and uselessness are obliterated, frivolous and utterly vain. And, in turn, we are given a ceaseless spring of love from which to love others.
I’m going to go see if the dishes have been done, or if I could sweep the floors now. I’m going to brave the cold, not because I have to, and not because it might somehow help to even the human scales of work and debt, but because I would love to, because I love the people who brave the cold with me and for me every day. This is our debt, to love Christ, and in striving to live as He lived, to allow His love to mediate all our relationships and all our dependencies.