This one might be a bit raw, but I suppose, as an English teacher, I’ve preached the credo “write what you know” enough to believe it. Our stories are our own.
Let’s just start with this: God is love.
Not our human, dependent-upon, fickle, memememe kind of love – the kind that falters or bolts when we’re met with an unkind word, a disappointing action, an unfulfilled expectation.
No, God’s love is a love that sticks. It sticks through our prodigal wanderings, it sticks through our lusts, it sticks through our greed and our judgements and our indifference; it sticks through our snappish demands, our overt cruelty, our not-so-benign neglect and our worrisome fears. God’s love stuck itself right up there on the cross where, despite the brutish spikes and the mocking spittle and the bloody thorns, its final words were ever-still looking out for our best good: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.
God is love. God loves. There is nothing and no one like our Love-God, and not even the most sacrificial, pure, holy, human love can approach the mighty, reckless, awe-ful, fearsome love of God.
I was married once.
My husband and I fell in love in the usual way – with laughter and shared pursuits, and eyes that held over candles, and sweetness and emotion and abandon. For over two decades, we woke up in the same bed, oftentimes with a nursing baby or a sick child or a couple of cats or all of the above alongside. We propped each other up when I began to unravel under the strain of motherhood or he was fired from his dream-job or our house burnt down or the kids took turns rebelling. Friends died and family members struggled and we moved more times than I care to count, but through it all, I thought: this is it. This is love.
Until, one day, it wasn’t anymore.
I missed the signs, wrapped up as I was in my selfish self, and thinking, how lucky am I – he’ll never leave, and though the silences were growing more alarming and his business trips seemed to blend one-into-the-other until he was away more than he was home, I nevernevernever thought he would walk away. Nights I would sit upstairs in our bedroom reading fictional accounts of people who sounded like they had it all together and he would sit downstairs in the “family” room playing iPad solitaire. It was desperate and heartbreaking, but I thought – we have time. This is rough, but we have time. Someday this will get better and we’ll have a great laugh, together.
Falling-love is easy. Sticking-love is not.
Sadly, that someday became instead a one-day when he said I can’t, and I won’t and I’m done.
How does one recover from such a thing? Get up every day and move about the world as if, as if, as if I could still eat and still sleep and still will my heart to beat on and still think can I make it back to the safety of the car before I break down for the umpteenth time today? Still smile at my children?
Still believe that God is love?
In the Gospel of John, the disciple Jesus loved, (this was how John oftentimes described himself; good ol’ dependable John!) recounts how many followers of Jesus began to fall away from Him when Jesus said these shocking words: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” This was obviously a hard thing for Jesus’s twelve main men to hear. Was this Jesus crazy? What could His words possibly mean?
Without getting into the theology of the richness of what Jesus meant – how His sacrifice will nourish us if we are willing to identify ourselves with His suffering – what happened next is what we really need to remind ourselves of when our own earthly sufferings startle us to attention.
For when they began to question and argue, Jesus asks His disciples point-blank: “You do not want to leave too, do you?” He wanted to hear from their own mouths where they stood with Him. Although being, of course, Jesus, He already knew.
Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Good ol’ impetuous Peter! Answering a question with a question. He’d been around Jesus long enough to have learned some of the Master’s nifty tricks. And he’d also been around Jesus long enough to know that there was no where else to go. Jesus’s words may have been shocking and hard – they still are, 2,000 years later – but they are life, hold eternal life.
You do not want to leave, too, do you, my daughter?
Lord, to whom should I go?
Where else can any of us go when the life we thought we were living suddenly strikes us on the heel? When the love we thought we knew drains away from us, leaving us empty and abraded? Or when we realize the things over which we thought we held sway – health, dreams, job, home, friends – are not actually ours to control? Never were.
Lord, to whom should I go?
Then comes His gentle answer. Come back to where you started, My child. Remember who I AM. I am love, your love, your best love. My love never falters, never runs, never leaves nor forsakes. My love is sweet and and light and affirming and constant, but I will tell you it can also be firm and heavy and corrective and bare.
My loves calls to you when you have forsaken my ways and are hiding in the trees. Adam, where are you?
My love cheers you on when you feel totally unqualified to do the things I have asked of you. Be strong and courageous, Joshua. Do not be afraid.
My love gives you purpose because I believe the best of you. Whom shall I send, Isaiah? Will you be my sent one?
My love fills you to overflowing so that, through you, I can bless others. Feed my lambs, Peter.
My love challenges you for your greatest good. Beloved, if you want to be my disciple you must deny yourself and take up your cross and follow me. For if you try to save your life, you will lose it, but when you lose your life for me, you will find it. What good will it be for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul?
My love both asks and answers the uncomfortable questions.
Jesus: You do not want to leave, too, do you?
Jesus: My child, be sure of this: I am with you always, until the very end of the age.
His liberating, uncompromising love is the flesh and blood of your life. It sticks. Yes, things might look pretty grim right now. They may feel jagged and merciless and unfair.
But His love can restore even that, yes, even that.
Human love can be patently unsticky. We are all, yes all, guilty of loving unstickily.
But that is why it is so amazing that we can with confidence listen to His love whispering to us in those bruised, tender places.
I am love.