Adjusting to life after Claudia’s leukemia was hard and weird in many ways (least of all the global pandemic that landed in our laps a few months later).
One struggle I faced was the constant desire to try to pay people back for their kindness to us. I wanted to be the first on the meal train, the first to volunteer, the first to see a need. In part, this was out of a great happiness that I could serve others: there was finally margin in my life and mind that made it possible to look beyond my own nose and family needs.
I also felt deep, deep love for the people in my life and was genuinely happy to serve them in whatever way I could.
But. I would be lying if I said I felt no underlying sense of duty or trying to even the score. Dane Ortlund had a good word on this:
“The natural flow of the fallen human heart is toward reciprocity, tit-for-tat payback, equanimity, balancing of the scales. We are far more intractably law-ish than we realize.Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly (157)
There is no points system. There’s no conversion chart for how many lasagnas equal a visit to a hospital sick bed. I don’t keep a record of whom I’ve served, waiting for them to serve me back–and neither does any other believer I know. Ortlund goes on:
“There is something healthy and glorious buried in that impulse [toward reciprocity], of course–made in God’s own image, we desire order and fairness rather than chaos. But that impulse, like every part of us, has been diseased by the ruinous fall into sin.”Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly (157)
If I tried to “pay back” everyone who helped us in that difficult season, I would be busy for years–and eventually, that busy-ness would become resentment.
Jesus addresses what our love for each other should look like:
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”John 15:12-13
We cannot lay down our lives in the same way Jesus did, but we can lay down our lives (whether our time, money, or other resources) for the sake of others.
I’m not meant to pay back my brothers and sisters for their care in our hour of need; I’m meant to be ready to care for them in theirs, whatever it looks like. God’s economy is not tit-for-tat, one-for-one, or merit-based.
No score keeping required.