The prologue (which we went through last week), ends with Dr. Roseveare reflecting of Mark 12:29-31 where Jesus reminds us of what the greatest commandments are:
“…’Hear O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment than these.”
The rest of the book is essentially a more detailed reflection on what it will actually cost us to love God in this way, the first chapter dealing with what it means to love God with all of our heart. Again, the chapter is packed with stories, beginning with her arrival in the Congo. She was thrilled to be there and “couldn’t wait to become one with the people,” no matter what the cultural or dietary barriers were (30). And those never seem to be a problem for her (she attributes that to her upbringing during WWII). In each and every situation Dr. Roseveare draws our attention to the reality that the problem was primarily with her heart. I will share one story with you in this post (though it is really hard to choose…she draws such amazing lessons from them all!).
She recalls the time when she felt God was re-emphasizing a particular lesson in her life – a lesson in dying to self. She was ill with Malaria and Jaundice (and probably just mere physical and emotional exhaustion), but was informed that another missionary was now in need of her medical services (I believe she promised them her services at a previous time, before she was very ill). The woman in need was about to deliver a baby, and because their only vehicle was not working and because of past complications, they needed her to come to them as soon as possible. Dr. Roseveare responded to them with a letter explaining that she would come as soon as she was able to travel and suggested that they try to make their way to a nearby hospital. The couple received the letter, but in an abrupt almost annoyed response “practically demanded” that she go immediately. She agreed to go, but was angry. Her leader at that time saw what she was going through and attempted to counsel her by reminding her of the couple’s situation – alone in the forest with no readily available transportation about to give birth in very dangerous circumstances, circumstances which could result in the death of both mother and child. They were not thinking of her sickness, and if they were, it paled in comparison to their needs at that moment. Dr. Roseveare heard what he was saying, but was “nursing [her] own grievance, and [her] right to be hurt by their apparent selfishness.” (39) Assuring her that he respected her decision to go and help them, her leader then asks her to do something remarkable (I think), and to do it for Christ’s sake:
…Just die to yourself, Helen, and the Lord will bless you….You are going there to help them. Don’t waste your time justifying your delay, or underlining your virtue in going at all. You are going as Christ’s servant. You’ll only regret anything you say in hast or in anger: and most probably it would only be in self-defense or self-justification. Can you no trust God with all that? The Lord, when he was reviled, reviled not in return, but He trusted Him who judges rightly (1 Pet. 2:21-24). If you can accept that to these two your delay has cause distress and anxiety, God will help you to go to them in humility and to ask their forgiveness for it. (40)
Can you imagine! Being asked in that situation to humble yourself and be the one to ask for forgiveness. I know what a struggle it would be for me. But Dr. Roseveare looks back on that situation and sees how God was teaching her…and she was “slowly learning.” Learning that to love God with all of her heart meant that she would have to forgo her rights in some situations so that, as she saw it, God could love others through her. It was a higher goal that she found herself dimly groping towards (41).
I feel challenged when I read this story and Dr. Roseveare’s subsequent reflection on it. Am I willing to love others this way? Am I willing to hand my heart over to God in this way? It seems so painful and counterintuitive. But perhaps this is the way of the Christian life. I hear often that we are to do what at times feels like death, and I think that is a very helpful thought. It may feel right to defend yourself and stand up for your rights (and sometimes it is). But what will come of it? Who will get the glory? Whose name are you really concerned about? It is not our feelings that should guide us, but rather a commitment to give ourselves over to one who gave himself for us, even if it means death.