Sunday, December 12, 2010

Love Hurts

Yet another re-post, from a couple years ago. . .


"If I never loved, I never would have cried.”
 Simon & Garfunkel

“Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing, compared with love in dreams.”
Dostoevsky “

[Jesus], having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.”
The Gospel of John, chapter 13, verse 1

Mother Theresa was fond of saying that our main task in this life is learning what it really means to love. She was also fond of saying that there is no spiritual growth without suffering. And I’ve come to understand that the two – love and suffering – are not so very separate from each other.

I think we’re sort of conditioned by our culture to think of love in terms of mellow warm feelings toward another person. But if warm-fuzzies is all that we mean by love, it winds up being pretty shallow and lame. Real love has as least as much (and honestly, probably a lot more) to do with changing shitty diapers in the middle of the night (or cleaning up after the Beloved's messes, more generally construed), as it does with beautiful sunsets, or walks on the beach. In a fallen world, it comes to seem that any love worthy of the name inevitably has a tragic aspect about it. We are all fallen, broken persons, and our fallen-ness and broken-ness redound to the pain of those who love us. And hobble our ability to love others as we ought. We inevitably hurt and disappoint those who love us, and in many ways, the measure of love is the manner in which it deals with those hurts and disappointments.

Our kids have taught some of this to Jen and me. When 1F was the ‘perfect’ adolescent, it was pretty easy to love her; to soak up the accolades we received for having raised such a wonderful girl. But, I don’t think I’ve ever been more deeply wounded than I was when she walked away from our family. And I never, in my worst dreams, would have imagined one of my daughters having a baby out-of-wedlock. But, you know, in the ensuing years, I think we’ve come to a stronger love for each other. I found out that my heart could bear more pain than I thought it could, and that I loved my daughter even though she had hurt me like I’d never imagined I could be hurt. Likewise for 3M – it was easy to love him when he was a cute and precocious child, when we got appreciative pats on the back for his wit and intelligence. But when he ran away from home, and defied us in every possible way, he simply broke our hearts. And such is the tragic aspect of love – real, down-and-dirty, harsh, dreadful love. He is not yet quite all that I would really want him to be - what he himself could be - but he's making real progress. And I think we have learned to love each other for who we are, apart from any questions about ‘approval’.

All of our kids, in one way or another, have suffered from my (and, I suppose, Jen’s, although for me even to say so evokes thoughts of the Log and the Speck) failures of love. 1F and 3M have just been the glaring, nuclear examples. 2F suffers greatly to this day that we didn’t love her as she needed us to – that we were so dazzled by her sister’s ‘perfection’, and too easily put off by her more strong-willed personality. 5M has too easily gotten lost in the chaos that swirled around his older siblings. And I'm sure, if I thought about it just a little, I could come up with examples in the lives of each of our kids. But perhaps we are learning, just a little bit better, what it means to love. Perhaps we can dig a little deeper, and give our kids the love they need, where once we’d have come up short. Perhaps. At least, I hope so. . .

It’s not just the kids, either. As much as I love Jen (and she me), there is, even still, a tragic aspect to our love. She has not avoided disappointing me (or, to be certain, I her), even though she is still the most amazing woman I’ve ever known. Some part of the measure of our love is coming to know – really know, where it hurts to know – each other’s weaknesses and character flaws, and keep moving forward. Even to cover for each other’s weaknesses (whether or not we ever thought we should have to).

So, again - the measure of our love is not the absence of our disappointments with each other. The measure of our love is what we DO with the inevitable hurts and disappointments that we inflict on each other – can we let “love cover a multitude of sins” (I Peter 4:8), or not? And then we have the example of God Himself, who “demonstrates His own love for us in this – while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Jesus didn’t wait for us to get our, uh, stuff together in order to make a gift of Himself for our sake. He loved us, “to the end,” even in all our fallen, broken, garbage.

In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously said that, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” And I think it’s likewise when it comes to ‘learning what it really means to love’. To love greatly is to risk being hurt greatly. To ‘pour ourselves out’ for the sake of the Beloved, with little or no regard for what we have left when we’re done. “And greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

Jesus, with all trepidation, I ask of you. . . teach me how to love. . .


  1. Thank you for this post- a great reminder, that love in many ways, isn't a "state", it's a job- and the most wonderful, fulfilling, heartbreaking job we'll ever... yeah, love :)

  2. and the final line says it all. we ask for patience we find we must wait. we ask for wisdom we find ourselves in a situation where we feel entirely lacking. we ask to learn to love and our love will be tested.

    then again, if any of these qualities go untested can we really say we possess them?

  3. I often ponder how much easier it is to love our kids (and sometimes even our friends) than our own spouses. I think the divorce rate is proof of this. It has helped me to think of my spouse as a child of God and to accept his faults as I hope that he will accept mine.

  4. Love that doesn't include some measure of forgiveness is hardly love at all. It's akin to bragging about tremendous morals without having been tempted, an empty boast.

    I'll forgive the re-run, but don't make a habit of it like some folks do :-)

  5. Sailor - Yeah, I'm not really sure sure what sort of a 'thing' love is; but it's more like a job than a feeling, for sure. . .

    Lime - Good point. You might actually have the character quality, but until it's tested, how would you know?

    I stopped praying for patience; too much really exasperating stuff kept happening. . . ;)

    Cocotte - It wouldn't seem so terribly exotic, would it, to find out that, at the root of the 'divorce epidemic' was a failure of love?

    And I'm not quite sure why it should be easier to love our kids than their other parent (with whom, after all, we made those kids, and who, besides ourselves, is what the kids are 'made of').

    But I sure can identify with 'I hope [s]he'll accept mine'. . . ;)

    Suldog - Yup. Forgiveness, and also a lot of selfless service. A friend of mine likes to say, "Greater love hath no man than this - that he clean up puke at 3AM. . ."

    I'm almost out of re-runs, for the time being. Which could be good news or bad news, depending on whether the original stuff is any good or not. . . ;)

  6. Actually, Cocotte, now that I think on it a little more, the problem is pretty much the opposite for me - it's easy to love my wife; loving my kids is more of a challenge for me. . .

  7. Great post, Craig. Lots here to take to heart.

    I've been trying this past year to allow my love to be "blind" where my spouse is concerned.

  8. Hi, Flutter! Good to see you here!

    Even better than 'blind', I think, is 'eyes wide open' - knowing the flaws and weaknesses of the Beloved, but loving him/her all the same. As a wise woman once said to me, simple, but not easy. . .