I used to wonder what it would feel like to be devoted to somebody or something. You know, the kind of devotion like that man in Sri Lanka had, that loved God so much that he pulled all his guts out and held them in a bowl for 24 hours to prove his devotion, then he put them all back in and lived- it’s true, I read about it in Guinness. What would I ever be willing to bare my guts for?
It turns out that there wasn’t anything noble about me most of my life. I took and gave when it profited me and “self preserved” myself into a lonely walled- in space that nobody was willing to live in with me for long. It probably began with my Father. I won’t bore you with a cliché’ description of growing up in a “home” with a drunkard for a parent, but I will give him the credit of saying he at least had something he lived for and he loved it until it killed him when I was in my early twenties. Not me- I was OK without much, maybe afraid of wanting anything because I had to be in control.
I was in my early thirties when I learned what it was to be devoted. I was a casual church goer but, I could take it or leave it. It had some benefits for me that had nothing to do with God. Single and working I slipped in and out of unsatisfying relationships that I felt I didn’t need. That is when the bomb dropped, an exchange student from elsewhere starting coming to my church. She was pretty and for all selfish reasons I pursued her- you see my roommate was interested in her as well. We began spending a lot of time together and as lame as it sounds she was different than other girls. For one thing she had devotion spilling out of her like honey, to her art, her family, her health, and for God. You know she actually went to church to worship.
I may have pinpointed when I crossed over from liking her to feeling devoted to her. Our relationship hadn’t even blossomed into romance. We were out shopping in the city and she was buying all sorts of stuff for her family back home. A drunken bum on the corner asked her for money, I grabbed her arm to steer her out of his path and she stopped. She gave him the rest of her shopping money and it cut our outing short. She didn’t seem to care that he was disgusting and didn’t deserve it.
“You know he’ll only buy booze with that or blow it on a hooker” I snorted.
She smiled and looked at me for a minute.
“You know I’m sure the devil said that to Christ after he finished bailing us out, too” she said with her slight southern drawl.
I guess at that moment I knew two things: that she was devoted unconditionally to an ideal and that I wanted to see her everyday. Was it still selfish? Maybe it was- maybe I thought she would rub off on me and I would find a lot of purpose in my life but the lesson didn’t end there.
We continued to hang out as friends- maybe more didn’t happen because she wasn’t looking for a guy like me. But, I was feeling all the symptoms of devoted love. I wanted to be with her, do things for her, I was sad when she was and happy when she was. I even felt excited about church- to see her, but also at the inkling that there might be a higher purpose to it that involved giving instead of receiving.
One night I felt it was time to unburden my heart to her. My roommate said I was whipped and for the first time in my life it was true. I walked through the night air to her apartment bursting with love. When she opened the door I took her into my arms at last and kissed her. It was a moment of worship; a ray of light seemed to bathe us in a holy glow. When I stood back and gazed into her eyes and told her I loved her she smiled sweetly, like she had that day at the drunken bum. That’s when the holy ray of light turned back into her porch light. I stood there with my bowl of guts and she basically told me to give it to God and she meant it. I wish someone had mentioned to me before that she was planning to save souls, feed the hungry, and clothe the naked as a missionary.
A few weeks later I experienced the final step in my education on devotion. I heard through the grapevine that she was invited to Tanzania to aid the people of Didia. She was going to have to turn it down because she had run out of money. I am sure it was because she couldn’t keep from handing it out like pamphlets for Jesus. I wrote a check and had it anonymously deposited into her account. You see, I found out that devotion is unselfish. My self preservation gave way to my love for her. I knew my money would send her away from me forever- would make her untouchable my whole life. But, I knew it was what she wanted most and I’d sacrifice anything to do right by her. One definition for devotion in the dictionary says “the fact or state of being ardently dedicated and loyal (as to an idea or person)” and I suppose it was the first time I ever knew what that meant.