One Soul

We live in a world that rates success by quantity: How much money have I made? How many people know my name? How big is my house? Even we as Christians fall into this thinking: How many devotions am I praying? How many hours do I volunteer? How many souls does my blog reach?

But the Shepherd was not thinking about quantity when He left behind the ninety-nine and went searching for the stray lamb. He was thinking about quality—the quality of one soul.

One soul. Naturally, if I write a book that I believe God called me to write, I want it to be read by as many souls as possible. But what if only one soul were to buy my book? What if thousands (or millions) were to buy my book but only one soul benefited from the message? Wouldn’t that be enough? If I truly believe that every soul is invaluable, irreplaceable, and worth dying for, it must be enough.

But what if no one bought my book? Should I then conclude that I wasted my time in heeding the Lord’s call? I say no—because by my obedience to Him, by my trust in Him, I am the one soul who benefits.

Salvation begins with me. With you. Yes, in suffering the Passion, Christ redeemed humanity—but He would have borne the Cross whether or not you were the only soul left on earth to redeem, because you are worth dying for.

Amon and the Bricks

Amon lives in a shrine, and his name means builder. His hair no longer glints as a raven’s wing does in the sunlight, for age and wisdom have revealed themselves.

When his hair was black and his back straight, Amon owned a brick. He loved this brick. He loved its burnt-red hue, its precise cut, its weight in his hands. Yes, he loved it, and yet he sensed that it alone could not satisfy him. And thus he acquired a second brick, identical to the first. Surely two beautiful bricks would satisfy. But as the days unfolded, that familiar sense that there must be more crept back.

Year after year, he gathered one brick after another, thinking surely the next would be enough. But it never was. By the time his temples had begun to turn silver like the frost that came every autumn to mark another year gone by, he owned more than a thousand bricks—but he was no more satisfied by these than he had been by one.

As he was passing over a bridge on an afternoon blue and brilliant, he paused to look down at the water below. He saw his reflection; he saw a face carved from torment as surely as his bricks had been carved from clay. Suddenly overwhelmed by the many wasted years he had spent seeking but not finding, he decided he would leap into the current and let it drag him to his death over the falls.

But as he was about to leap, something on the riverbed flashed as bright as any star he’d ever gazed upon. He felt a movement in his heart as he had never felt before. Leap indeed he did—but to dive into the depths to collect the treasure awaiting him.

It was the most beautiful stone he had ever seen—as pure as a mountain stream or a flute’s voice or a child’s eyes—far more beautiful than the bricks he loved.

And yet, even after the day that Amon found the Greatest Treasure, he still loved his bricks. They had not lost their value—but they had found their purpose.

Brick by brick, Amon built a shrine in which to place his newfound love. And the moment he set the Greatest Treasure at the heart of his every desire, he realized the bricks were indeed valuable—but only ever meant to lead him deeper to that which at long last satisfied him.

A Hopeless Romantic

Our God is a romantic—truly, a hopeless romantic.

We know this by creation: sea creatures that glow electric blue when touched by night, Everest rising ragged above all else, a sky awash with a thunderhead as if with ink. Or consider blue-green waves hushing against a red beach, trees suffocated by ivy, horses tearing over Scotland’s heath, a peacock flaunting its iridescent finery. Wildflowers, a brook in the woods, a wet-black calf emerging into a world of straw and light and its mother’s lowing. One could gush on and on, because creation is utterly romantic—because its Maker is utterly romantic. It is His love-note to us. He is a Lover who knows how to swoon His beloveds, does He not? I know my own heart squeezes when I look upon creation—in the same way that my heart squeezes when my gaze connects with the one who has captured my heart.

And so we must conclude that human romance was created to reflect our divine romance with God. Why else do we exist but because God’s love swelled to overflowing? Love begets love. Yes, His love overflows into us, and that same love overflows into each other. Romance is why we are. We were created to live romantic lives.

But how does this unfold?

In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis wrote: The good of oneself is to be the good of another. 

And this is love.

Such hope dwells within that insight—fullness of life for you and fullness of life for another, not apart from each other, but precisely because your lives are intertwined. For if the Lord has designed you to be the good of another, you are not only liberated but called to become fully you. Every bit that constitutes you—your humor, intellect, likes, dislikes, dreams, even your fears and flaws—every bit is to lead the other to greater holiness. Just as they were designed for your good. Indeed, in a divinely inspired union, when you give yourself and love another, you will receive your beloved’s self and their love. And by receiving them, you are also liberating them to become fully themself and thereby bringing them joy.

But perhaps the most liberating, the most joyous thing, is that by the sheer nature of your union, those fears and flaws in you, in the other, will be ground to dust beneath your feet as you journey toward Heaven, hand in hand. For love liberates you to be the best version of yourself. 

It is a selfless calling, as you give your whole being to another, even as it is ultimately fulfilling. It is a calling that finds its origin deeper than your emotions, deeper than the other’s emotions, because whether or not you feel like giving, or feel the other’s need for you, they do still need you. You were designed to help transform each other into saints. Thus, even when your emotional love, or the other’s, lapses (as it will for we are weak), hope remains. For emotions were merely designed to stir spark into flame, to fuel your essential drive to give—which is to love always, no matter what.

But the essential is not dependent on the emotional. No, the essential is dependent only on Love Himself, on keeping your eyes ever fixed on who your beloved truly is, which is the image of Christ. No matter how tarnished the image may become, what lies beneath remains intrinsically beautiful. Christ, who is Truth, never changes, thus who the other person truly is never changes either. Your love for them, then, never need be threatened, even when it seems the fire has died and all that remains is ash. Believe that an ember yet glows, hidden but waiting to blaze again.

For the Lord desires that your love burn—because it is within the union of two lovers that His own love burns the brightest in all the universe.

Knowing this, I believe it is okay to be swept off your feet, to let the fireworks erupt—as long as your emotions draw you deeper into the heart of your beloved, where you will come face-to-face with that image of the Great Romantic. May newborn enchantment, then, give birth to true passion—that is, the passion that drove Christ to lay down His life for His bride, the Church. Just so, we must deny ourselves, pick up our crosses, and lay down our lives for the those we love. Only once we have died can there be resurrection. That is romance.

That is love.

Mushrooms

I was walking with my eyes on the way before me. Moss compressed beneath my feet and tickled my palms where it had spread to cloak the trees. Leaves ruddy with autumn were scattered through the forest in moist layers, like tiramisu. I held my breath so as not to miss the silence.

And then, just before the ground dipped into a tinkling brook, my gaze caught on pops of butter-yellow. I crouched. Mushrooms had pushed their button heads up into the world, to peer around at the dripping forest, to draw a young woman’s attention to those things that are small enough to miss were she not looking down. Small but beautiful things.

Why do I, at times, forget this? Why do I fix my eyes on the horizon—when it is only ever the step before me, and not the ones ahead, that carries me forward? Only now, having tripped over brambles and fallen flat on my face, do I remember that beauty is found in the moment.