What radical love looks like for me now: a quiet, unknown sainthood.
Standing in front of a group of fifty on a church retreat, our speaker in a baseball cap tells us that because the church is part of God’s story we’re called “to be radical.” I hold my breath at the phrase, and then let it out when he narrows his language “to love radically.”
I’ve been reading about the early Celtic monks who ventured out in small boats in hopes of hitting land and telling someone about Jesus. They stood in frigid waters praying with their arms outstretched, isolated themselves in hermitages, and prayed the Psalms at all hours. These Trinity-focused men and women spread the fire of the Gospel in Ireland, Scotland, and Northern England. They were radical.
I don’t feel like a radical Christian. I was once, at least the version of the church I was in. I woke up at 5:45 every morning to pray and read Scripture. I read theology and participated in Bible studies. To know God, you accumulated lots of knowledge of him, and the person with the biggest mental pile of theology and Scripture earned respect. You also were self-consciously to direct all your money toward God so that if you wanted to go to lunch, you’d better take someone to witness to.
In the end I burned out. I retreated into silent prayer with just a few paragraphs of Scripture for nurture. I took myself out for coffee all the time and read books on contemplation.
There are other kinds of Christian radical too. In college, I tried street missions once, letting a drunk hold my hand in the softened leather of his as he looked at me with wet eyes and told the man next to me that I was a good woman. But even in my immaturity then, I recognized that the time it would take to dedicate myself to relationships on the “street” would conflict with the time it would take for me dedicate myself to my studies. I couldn’t do both well.
I am trying to follow the Celtic monks somewhat, to love radically. My girls and I spend time in the Psalms every day, and I’m surprised at the effort each morning for just ten minutes. This morning we read one that God blesses sleep. I don’t need a bell ringing across green hills to wake me up to pray because there are going to be enough wake-ups anyway when I spend four hours tucked in with the five-year-old frame of a flailing sleeper who had a bad dream.
Loving radically for me is honoring sleep for myself—I’ve avoided going to bed since a child. It’s loving my husband enough not to ditz about on Pinterest on my phone in in the bathroom at night. We can have the ritual of praying together, and he, an earlier riser, gets enough sleep. It’s loving my kids enough that I go to bed so I’m a nicer person with them the next day, one who doesn’t shriek at my four-year-old when we’re about ready to leave for school and she demands a pair of open-toed shoes she’s not allowed to wear on the wood-chip playground.
It’s having a little Trinity prayer I say in the car with my kids because, let’s admit it, I’m a miserable driver and they’ll get to see dependence on God modeled.
I may not clamber into a frail boat with no oars, but loving radically is pushing aside my intimidation of the woman with the fabulously trimmed brows and the long green maxi dress who drives a Lexus SUV. I could ask her a question while we’re in line to pick up our kid at school. It’s texting my Saudi Arabian friend and hanging out in her apartment as our children stick metallic temporary tattoos on each other.
It’s right here. Right now. With these people, some crazy-making, in front of me. This is my quiet, unknown sainthood.
Along with being a mother to two young and remarkably different daughters, Heather Walker Peterson is a member of Redbud Writers Guild and Chair of the Department of English and Literature at University of Northwestern-Saint Paul.