Things That Matter To Me

The Toil of Love

I had no time to hate, because
The grave would hinder me,
And life was not so ample I
Could finish enmity.

Nor had I time to love, but since
Some industry must be,
The little toil of love, I thought,
Was large enough for me.

(Emily Dickinson)


 “Mommy, Michael said something that really bothered me.”

Michael’s a kid in her 2nd grade class, and I hear her mention him from time-to-time. Rarely is it positive.

She went on, “He said God is stupid. And some other mean things about God, too.”

Whoa. Really? In 2nd grade? Sheesh.

She told me she just ignored it, and wanted to know if that was the right response. I told her it probably was, and then reminded her of something we’ve talked about before when the hallways and playgrounds of elementary school get a little tough–most of the time, the meanest people are the unhappiest people.

I suspect that 1) Michael doesn’t have a whole lot of cause for happy in his life and 2) Michael’s parents and/or guardians have some God issues.

Children have to be taught such things, you know. They don’t, just on their own, go around blowing up offices or shooting their classmates or slaughtering people who don’t agree with them. They don’t, just on their own, mistrust other races or religions or ways of being. They have to be taught discrimination and bullying and violence. They have to be taught to hate. 

We’ve taught them far too well, if seven year-olds are vocalizing their opinions about God in such negative ways.

And it seems to me we’re running out of time to teach them another way. Mostly because we can’t seem to find another way ourselves. It takes so much energy to hate, so much energy to be angry, so much energy to spew vitriol about this, that and the other. There are days when the world seems so damn loud with rage that I am inclined to pop in my earbuds on a permanent basis and put Puff the Magic Dragon repeat.

There is a time and a place to draw a line in the sand–do not hear me saying there isn’t. There are causes worth dying for and beliefs worth giving our lives to. And our collective history as human beings is dotted, thank God, with examples of men and women and children who have said, “On this rock I stand and I shall not be moved.” (Some of whom I’d stand with; some I’d stand as far from as possible.) Charlie Hebdo‘s Stéphane Charbonnier is perhaps the most recent public example of not stepping down from your principles and what that can cost a person.

But it is one thing to stand up for what you believe, and another thing entirely to attack, derogate, attempt to destroy or engage in shouting matches with those who believe differently than you. And yet this seems to have become our (in the “royal” sense) MO.

Let’s not trick ourselves into thinking it’s just those “damned extremists” either–to be sure, there are those who seem to be especially full of an especially destructive hate (in just about EVERY faith expression, political leaning and/or philosophical bent), but that doesn’t let the rest of us of off the hook. Not by a long shot.

This global mess we’ve gotten ourselves into, in all its manifestations, whether that’s terrorism or civil war or constant political posturing or systemic racism, it is on all of us to make right. 

In everyday actions, in gestures both big and small; in our work and in our play and in our grocery shopping; in our expression of the things we hold dear…in all these things, we have an opportunity, at every moment, to set right so much of that which has gone wrong all across this blessed Creation.

I know it isn’t an easy to thing to think about, much less do, and I certainly don’t claim possession of any road map that will get us to a more loving, less hateful place. But I also know there’s very little worth doing in this life that doesn’t require hard work now and again. Both love and hate take tremendous energy, and I think Emily Dickinson was probably right in which one she chose to spend her energy on. It might be in our best interest to follow suit.

In fact, Michael and my daughter are depending on us to do so.




2 thoughts on “The Toil of Love

  1. Thank you – and because naming is important in both blessings and missions, let me add to those depending on our response the names of Gareth, Becca, Lillie and Nina


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