Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes,
And I shall keep it to the end.
I was just starting my first job out of seminary, setting up a college chaplaincy at Kenyon College, and I needed help and advice on what to do. So I went to Chicago and met (among others) the great Sam Portaro who was then chaplain at Brent House at the University of Chicago.
He had all sorts of fantastic advice on setting up mailing lists and creating calendars and the nitty-gritty of getting things done. I took notes furiously, overwhelmed at everything I would have to set up in the month I had before classes started. And at the end of our meeting, as I looked over everything on this huge list, I probably radiated anxiety. I certainly felt it anyway. And Sam looked at me and gave me this advice: “Just love those kids.” I didn’t write it down, but I’ve never forgotten it.
The section of Psalm 119 that’s in today’s lectionary has always struck me because of one word — and the word is “it.” At first I thought, shouldn’t it be “them”? After all, it’s about following God’s statutes, all 613 of them. But although “statutes” is plural, it’s not the statutes that the Psalmist is hoping to keep; it is the way of the statutes, the basic underlying premise. The Psalmist asks God to teach me that one way, the singular thing that keeps all of those statutes together in one place, and that is of course the way of love.
This way of love isn’t simply a mushy-gooey excuse for not planning. When I returned to Ohio, I got to work and dug into the nitty-gritty details. But knowing that the underlying premise of all my tasks was to “Just love those kids” gave me the assurance that even if I didn’t do things perfectly, I was still headed the right way.
Before you start work today, instead of focusing entirely on what you need to do, take a minute to think about who you are doing it for and say a prayer for them.