Hold my ladder

As a homeowner, there are plenty of jobs most of us just don’t enjoy doing: weed-eating, grout-cleaning, baseboard-dusting, etc. Generally, these are tasks which run on a never-ending loop: We clean. We pause briefly to bask in the triumph of our accomplishment. Then, before we know it, it’s time to do it again.

 

Cleaning out the gutters is an accurate example of this “life of a homeowner” principle, (along with possibly being on the list of the punishments God gave Adam in the Garden of Eden which are now meted out upon us, his miserable descendants).

 

When we get a heavy rain, it becomes obvious that the gutters are clogged. Water is pouring down in sheets at the corners of the roof, instead of coming down the drainpipes like it’s supposed to. Once the rain stops, my husband Brent goes out to the shed to get the ladder. He carries it over to the house and leans it against the wall. But before he climbs to the top, he does what smart people do: he asks for someone to hold his ladder.

 

I am usually the one at the bottom of the ladder, legs planted firmly in the ground using all my might to hold the metal frame which the love of my life is precariously perched at the top of. Even though I run the risk of getting splatted by the gross sludge coming down in handfuls from the clogged gutter, I preferred to be the one holding the ladder, because I don’t trust the kids to do the job. In a way, it’s an honor to be asked to do something so important for my most favorite person, or at least that’s what I tell myself as I comb rotted vegetation from my hair.

 

Now that I think of it, climbing should never be a solitary journey. In the same way that they encourage people to use the buddy system on a mountain climb, we should all be scaling the heights together.

 

Over 100 years ago, a group of women gathered together to form an organization that would do just that. It was called the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), and their mantra was “Lifting as We Climb.” The women who started the organization, including the heroic Harriet Tubman, were dedicated to improving the lives of people of color, not just for themselves, but to lift up their communities for generational impact.

 

The NACW was born in a time when people of color, and especially African-American women, were demonized and considered less than human. When a British suffragette asked a Missouri newspaperman to encourage American journalists to speak out against lynching, he wrote back to her in no uncertain terms what he thought about the people of color in America. But his words of hate and prejudice only solidified their mission. The women proved their humanity in the best sense of the word by working together to better the lives of their sisters.

 

Anyone with an ounce of ambition (or who’s ever played Chutes and Ladders) knows it’s better to go up the ladder. We want better—better for ourselves, better for our kids, better at work, better at home. The question we should ask ourselves is this: Are we willing to hold the ladder for others as they scale to higher heights? Are we lifting as we climb?

All my strength

At my church, we’ve been studying the book of Deuteronomy. Last week, we heard a sermon from Deuteronomy 6, which contains one of my favorite verses, a passage I was taught to memorize at a very young age: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” In Deuteronomy, Moses tells the people to remember this commandment to love God, to teach it to their children, and to constantly talk and think about Him.

 

Sunday’s sermon made me want to study deeper into this passage. After all, this section is called the Shema, which means Listen, so I sat down to pay more attention to it. This scripture is central to the Jewish faith, so much so that Jesus quoted it in three of the Gospels, including Mark 12: “The most important command is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’”

 

Of course, Jesus doesn’t misquote Deuteronomy (that’s impossible because He is God, the author of the whole book), so why does He add an extra word? Instead of three, Jesus lists four ways to devote ourselves to God: heart, soul, mind, and strength. I always assumed the original list meant for me to love God with my emotions, my spirit, and my physical body. And then Jesus just added my thoughts. While this is true, there’s a richer, more all-encompassing explanation waiting to be discovered.

 

Due to the complexities of language, it’s easy to misunderstand what strength means in the original text. Though the picture which pops into my mind is of a carnival-type Strong Man hoisting a dumbbell over his head, it’s not an accurate visual for this verse. Some versions translate strength as power, while others use the word might. But the original word means “muchness.” We’re given one word after another that commands us to love God with everything we’ve got. Although this is a giant and challenging task, it becomes more clear-cut because I can offer what I have, and this is a relief to someone who sometimes feels she lacks strength.

 

To be honest, I don’t feel especially strong unless I’m giving birth or moving furniture by myself. Other than that, I consider my abilities in the “Strength” category to hover around average, so what would He want with my often lame excuse for strength? We’re called to love God with the heart, soul, mind, and strength we’ve been given, but how? Well, fortunately, we have the example right in front of us: God loved us first. As the Book of Romans describes it, “God loved us when we were still sinners.” Dirty, old, always-messing-up sinners. If He could start loving me in spite of my weakness, then I can love him back while situated in the same flawed condition. I can never match His strength anyway, making my offering pretty inadequate, but he still wants my love.

 

I couldn’t say why Jesus added the word mind in his list after they asked him what the greatest command was, but He was in an earthly body at the time He spoke those words. He knew the limitations of this physical form, so He seemed to want to be clear. Love the Lord with all the “muchness” you’ve got at your disposal, and then love your neighbor. Jesus told them once we do this “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” Thank goodness it doesn’t have to begin with my strength…It all starts with love!