Often, loving others is hard. Loving others can require candor, honesty, vulnerability, apology, acceptance, self awareness, compromise, and the emptying of self.
Loving others is hard sometimes. Whether it is marriage, or my kids when they act up or won’t stop crying (don’t we all know this one!), a separated parent, a distanced sibling, my close church friends, and not so close strangers. Loving those people can be easy and amazingly rewarding. But some days it is hard.
Love may require what I don’t want to give, as in an apology to someone who we feel often tries to hurt me. Or it may require what I feel unprepared to give, as in giving money to a hurting fellow church goer. Or it might require me doing what I know is necessary and helpful but I really hate to do, as in being really hopeful and trusting when you get the short end of the stick in support (often times it is unintentional and in good attitude!). Love may even require that which we fear: bearing the cross and suffering for others, as in standing up for poor, black or other who are marginalized or looking like public fools because we have compassion for the least of these.
But love is rewarding, a blessing, and amazingly worth it. A marriage grows roots through love, a parent becomes the presence of God through love, a friendship finds new life in love, a community unifies in love, and the body of Christ finds its shape in love. But those effects are borne out in the future, some long long into that future. Some of those blessings aren’t even ours, but they bear blessing for somebody.
For me, the sheer difficulty at times and then great worth of it become small in the grand scheme of life. Because love is the only meaningfully significant shape life can have. For me it goes further in that that love is Christ shaped, Christ driven, Christ breathed.
Nonetheless, love is both extremely difficult but singularly profound in our lives. In life, there is only love. What would bring this up you might ask?
Well, I write tonight thinking about the importance of three relationships in my life and the call to love in all of them- my relationship with my wife, my relationship to my brother, and my relationship with parents who have lost their child in a traumatic and tragic way.
First, marriage is very hard. Everyone knows this. But marriage requires an incredible amount of compromise and working together, all for the good of the other, myself, and our family. And for a single guy who was well into independence, compromise is tough. And for a guy who normally internalizes and keeps an even keel rather than expressing frustration or my desires, compromise and working together feel nearly impossible. Little things are really big things. Those small things can be time away from kids, project or class time, where to go to dinner, or even why the toilet paper roll never makes it onto the knob rather than laying on the counter! But there are big things that challenge is- a third parent (though technically I am actually the third for my stepson) who often functions as real enemy, character concerns (who is self obsessed or who is a continual pouter- both probably me!), and communication. That last one didn’t really get any filler because it’s obvious for every couple. But there is only love right? Actually, sometimes I really struggle with that. But it’s what I have to offer, and more importantly, it’s what I get to receive if I open myself to it. It’s the vulnerability of love in this case that’s hard! But there is only love and it is profound. It has to be in this fundamental relationship!
Second, my brother has always vexed me and yet his presence is just as important as any other friend I have. I didn’t realize how important Joe is to me until into college years and then especially as I have lived in Houston. We both looked forward to hangin out all the time over the holidays. Of course, no bigger smile came than when he was moving here to live with me last year. It was a time full of potential, full of hangin out, watching him grow into a professional in my presence than in distance, and realizing the full potential of hangin out. And it was good- he was a true bouy to me as my wife grew pregnant and Joe gave balance to the usually chaotic life of pregnancy. But for reasons his own and following his passion, he moved to the northeast last summer and I have missed him since. And it’s been hard. Though he is following his own passion and being independent, I am missing him and finding it hard not to be torn about his leaving, if not bitter. He didn’t leave because of me, but it feels like it. And so love is difficult and challenging, because it would be easy to just forget and just let the relationship go to the wayside (he’s not an avid communicator so I could sit for a long time without hearing anything). Love is hard but the effort is worth it because it is all I have for him- a deep desire for his place in my life as my best friend, a confidante, and perhaps most importantly, my playing partner.
Third, and I can’t say much because of HIPPA and desires for privacy, a relationship with heroic and faithful parents in tragedy. Love is hard because I can’t walk away and pretend that this child didn’t die, that children don’t die, or that God is doing something good and so I can just trust it’s all working out for the good. These parents lost a child days after the amazing new beginning of a transplant, and days later, sudden tragedy that no one could protect their child from. Love caps for unending perseverance, for us to walk with suffering and wipe away tears and for being a receiver of the unspeakable pains of others. Love calls for candor: I am so sorry; she doesn’t deserve this; she will always be your baby; I don’t know why. Love is profoundly difficult and profoundly meaningful in that it sees purpose in the compassion itself, not in whether it fixed, or whether it changed others, or whether you said the right thing. It’s the compassionate candor that suggests that I am human too, that I am a believer in a loving God too, and that I too sometimes struggle mightily in both of those aspects. I want to fix, to solve, to make their pain go away, to bring smiles….but I can’t. But there is only love and it is all I have to offer them in their suffering and grief, and truth be told, love is their brightest light in their darkening grief.
There is only love, given by God, called into existence and nurtured by God. But it’s rarly easy from there, and God knows it.