(Read 1 Corinthians 13:1-8a, 13)
Melody was a mother of two until one day, her 10-year-old was killed in a tragic skiing accident. As you might understand, this is the worst event that has ever happened in Melody’s life. Not that her life had been easy up to that point. To give you a brief summary- Melody had a difficult childhood, married young, had two children, when they were still quite young she divorced her husband because neither of them were happy. She had no money trying to raise the kids and make it as a writer. Then, finally, success! Her book, Codependent No More, hit the New York Times bestseller list in the early ‘90’s. She and the kids bought a nice house and lived three worry-free, happy years together. And then it happened. One cold day in February, while skiing at the local resort, young Shane was knocked down twice by passing skiers, and somehow, the blows to his body were enough to kill him.
Melody plunged into numbness and then despair. For two years, she could barely go on living herself. She believed in God, but that almost made her feel worse because as C.S. Lewis once wrote, “The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like.’” Melody felt very angry with God. Why would God let this happen? Why would God take one of the two people she loved most in the whole world?
No parent wants to see their child suffer, let alone lose their life, and yet, the painful reality for both parties is that parents cannot stop their children from suffering or from death. In terms of suffering, from beginning to end, it’s a part of all our lives that we must accept. Children get teased, and their feelings get hurt. They get lost in malls and cry in fear of not being found. They lay awake in the night terrified of the dark and scary dreams.
As children get older, their suffering tends to grow. Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, Little kids, little problems. Big kids, big problems. As children they may have been teased by their classmates, but as teenagers, they are teased and put down by those who call themselves their friends. That’s worse. As children they may have gotten lost in the mall, but as teenagers, they are lost period. Not knowing who they are, what they believe, how to act. As children they lie awake in the night afraid of the dark, but as teenagers, they lie awake in the night sobbing over unrequited or lost love. As we grow, so does our pain
By the time children reach adulthood, their problems often surpass their parent’s problems. Financial. Legal. Social. Relational. Career. You name it. No one is immune to the struggles of this life. Not newborn babies, and not your baby who might be in his or her 50’s by now. While you want to protect your children, you cannot prevent them from getting hurt or making mistakes. You cannot do for them what they cannot do for themselves. Even though you want to, you can’t fix it and make it all better.
And that’s ok.
I was reading The Shack for our book study the other day, and I came across a meaningful quote to this effect. In the story, Mack is heart-broken because his daughter was abducted and murdered when the family was on a camping trip. Mack goes into a great sadness, and it happens that one day he comes face to face with God, who is manifest (at least in The Shack) as an African American woman. A rift has developed in Mack and God’s relationship since his daughter’s death, and God says to Mack, “Honey, there’s no easy answer that will take your pain away. Believe me, if I had one, I’d use it now. I have no magic wand to wave over you and make it all better. Life takes a bit of time and a lot of relationship” (Young, William. The Shack. Pg. 91).
There’s no magic wand that God can wave over our lives so that we may escape suffering. There’s no magic wand that any parent can wave to take their child’s pain away. It’s wishful thinking to believe otherwise. But the one thing parents can always do is continue to love their children no matter what. Like God continues to love us and be with us no matter what.
Love is different than fixing. Love is staying with and for someone through it all. We might not be able to make each other’s pain go away, but we can support, encourage, be kind to, listen to those we love when they are struggling.
As 1 Corinthians says, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” It never stops.
About two years after the death of Shane, Melody came to understand what it means to love in a new and profound way.
The answer came gently, softly, and as certain as the morning sun, filling me with light. Every experience I have had in my life has been about the same thing. Love. [Think about that a second. Every experience you have had in your life was to teach you about love. Just that thought right there makes me see my past and my present differently.] The struggles to learn I had a soul. The struggles to learn about my strengths. Even my grief. I had been talking to a woman seated near me at dinner one night, wailing about my pain, my anguish over losing my son, about how close the three of us had been, about the hole in my heart. The woman had turned to her husband. Have you ever loved that deeply? She had asked. I don’t think so, he had said. Even these, my blackest and darkest moments, had been a form of love, one of its lessons.
What did I think love would look like? Feel like? Be? A romantic vision of being carried off to Camelot? And then what?
Forgiveness. Compassion. Service. Self-love. Loving myself when I was certain nobody else loved me or ever would. Then opening up, learning to let others in.
Acceptance Acceptance of myself, my life, others, their lives.
Friendship. Courage. Perserverance.
Joy. Learning to delibertately choose joy. The simple sweet process of learning to be present each moment and find and choose joy, a joy not dependent on outer circumstances, but one that comes from the heart.
How did I think I would learn all these lessons, all these subcategories of love?
Trust. Trusting myself. Learning to trust others, life, God.
Learning to play and laugh. Learning to walk away, sometimes learning to stay put. Honoring my own needs, even when they differed from what others thought my needs should be. Honoring me, even when I was different from what others thought I should be. Trusting my vision for my life, creating another one if that one didn’t work. Chasing my dreams, catching them, then finding more. Learning about this connection , this absolute and divine connection to all that is, and maybe ever way, in the universe.
And finally, facing and accepting death.
Had I though all those lessons would be learned easily?
(Beattie, Melody. The Lessons of Love. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994. Pg. 211-213).
The truth is, our joy as well as our pain, our fulfilled dreams as well as our great disappointments, those we adore as well as those we loathe, everything has the potential to help us love, to grow in love and all of love’s subcategories. Love can feel wonderful, but often, it doesn’t feel good. Not in this life. We want it to, but love is much richer than creating a pleasant emotion.
To love someone so deeply, like a mother or father loves their child, is to put yourself out there to experience everything that life has to offer. So if you truly believe that love is the greatest thing like Paul says, “And now faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” If you believe that and you want love in your life, then you should consciously understand that to love is to open yourself, to become vulnerable to every sort of experience under the sun.
Look at the struggles you’re facing, and instead of seeing them as wretched curses or despairing about life, realize that you are learning to love deeply and passionately. At the beginning of this sermon I said, “As we grow, so does our pain.” But its more accurate to say, as we grow, so does our love, and our ability to love.
The one who knows love so completely (other than our mothers) is God for God is love.
And God has been there for each of us throughout our lives, through the good and the bad. This is the promise God has made to us. “My precious, precious child, I love you and I will never leave you.” Love never ends.
So on this day, let us celebrate love for what it truly is, and let us rejoice for we are all learning the lessons of love.