Paul says in Romans “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” It can be the hardest and simplest thing to live in God’s abundant love. Hate grows so fast and love must be cultivated and maintained. Currently I am in Kit’s Bible study on Mystic Activism, which has been an interest of mine since college when I realized that being a Christian was bigger than just not going to hell. Right now, we are studying Howard Thurman. As I read, study, discuss and watch videos, my sweet Pablo is always on my mind. With tears in my eyes I thank God for letting me love this 10-year-old boy…
Pablo is one of eight children, living with their overworked father, while their mother is in prison; the truth is they have lived in many homes, with many different people. I started taking the kids to church most Sundays so their father could do laundry, go to the store or just have time to himself. I signed up the four middle children for Art Tuesday through our partners at Free Arts of Arizona, so they could have a space to express their emotion and process who they are. But not until recently did I realize how God would use Pablo, to bless me, encourage me and teach me about faith. One particular week, only two of the children came with me to church, Pablo and his nine year old sister. He asked if he could stay in the service with me instead of going to Sunday school. I thought he would sleep or play games on my phone like he has before but, today, he was engaged and asking questions. Pastor Jorge compared Peter’s story to the story of James; discussing how God sent Angels to rescue Peter from jail while James was left to die…how sometimes God saves one and not another. We must trust God, which is sometimes hard when we don’t understand Him. Pablo thought about this story and concept the rest of the day and brought it up a few times, retelling the lesson in his own words to my roommate and friend who were not at church. He asked to read the bible with me and shared his hurts and pains; he told me how he used to be happy, but was now always sad and mad. We shared our prayer requests with each other. His sister wanted to pray that their mom would come home and Pablo added that this would help him feel love and joy again. I shared my own request to trust God and wait on him. Then it happened…Pablo asked to pray for us; he prayed first, then I closed. As he prayed, I cried. Such faith, such maturity and authenticity of pain and trust. He thanked God and acknowledged him as king of his life, but also acknowledged the doubt that he feels. He asked God to give him joy and help him to feel loved and to take his anger and pain away. Then, remembering the lesson of that morning, he prayed about understanding why God sometimes saves one and not another. He even asked for a miracle, to hear God speak out loud to him. He beautifully prayed that his mom would be safe and feel his love and come home. He, even then, prayed for me. As I continued to allow the tears to flow down my cheeks, it was my turn to pray, but I don’t remember what I said before, “In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
As I study people who, in the middle of the violence and hate of the civil war, civil rights, or holocaust chose love instead of hate, people who found intimacy with Christ during their suffering, I find myself desperate for God to show me how to teach this to Pablo. As I read their words, I see his story. I see the temptation to fight violence with violence and hate with hate. I see the need to not only evict the devil from where he settles in our hearts, but to fill those spaces with God’s love and maintain that love in order to not give the devil another foothold. I see the need to deeply know God’s love in order to grow my own capacity to love in the middle of violence, bitterness, and hate. I see the tension. I see Pablo with hate on one shoulder and love on the other…and how easy it is for him to choose hate. I feel the darkness, the fading of hope. I hold him, pray over him, and tell him God is bigger than his hate, his darkness, his doubt. God doesn’t give up on him even when he gives up on God. I tell him darkness is like light to God and nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate him from the love of God.
I will hope for Pablo’s future until he can hope again. I will pray for the miracle as he no longer has the strength to pray. As I sit with the words of the mystics, I hear them saying, “God is in me…sit in silence…discover God’s overwhelming love and provision.” That love drives me. I fight not for the soul of Pablo for God has a firm grip on him. Oh, but how I pray for his life. I fight for him to live in the abundance of God’s love, to live in hope and peace.
As I fight, I find that God is not even done with me yet; God is teaching me of his own love for me as I love Pablo.
QUIETNESS AND CONFIDENCE
(From Howard Thurman’s “Deep is the Hunger”)
“In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.”
Long before I was born God was at work
Creating life, nature and the world of men and things.
The world where ideas in the mind of God
that have been realizing themselves through the ages.
God is not through with creation—
God is not through with me
In quietness and confidence shall be my strength.
“Acquaint now thyself with him and be at peace.”
In many ways I am getting acquainted with myself.
Always I seek a deeper understanding of my true self
The very core of me.
What I would be and am not yet, reassures me.
Through my innermost self I find my way to God.
I shall acquaint myself with him and be at peace.
“I will fly in the greatness of God as the marsh hen flies,
Filling all the space twixt the marsh and the skies.”
What I seek beyond is what I am finding within.
The beyond is within.
The signature of God is all around me
In the rocks, in the trees, in the mind of men.
“I will fly in the greatness of God as the marsh hen flies.”
“I will fear no evil; for thou art with me.”
I can never be overcome by evil
Until the evil that threatens moves without within.
This does not mean that I shall not be hurt by evil,
Shall not be frustrated by evil,
That I shall say that evil is not evil.
I shall see the travail of my own life with evil
And be unafraid.
For, “Thou art with me;
Thy rod and Thy staff they shall comfort me.”
Nikki Villegas is a Case Manager and Mentor in the Education department at Neighborhood Ministries. She holds a Master’s Degree in Educational Psychology.