The past week has been hard. It started with the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas. The hours afterward were nauseating. How could evil consume one human to the point that thousands of people could be reduced to target practice? Fifty-eight people dead. Hundreds more injured, their lives forever changed.
The magnitude of such a tragedy tempts me to throw in the towel. I spend my days writing and speaking and doing whatever I can to communicate Truth, to let people know about their Creator and that he loves them. When hatred and evil appear to be winning – like in Vegas – and decisively so, “What’s the point?” becomes a difficult question to answer.
Then, around 2:45 a.m. Friday morning, I receive a call from my mom. When the phone rings at this hour, it’s either jammed between someone’s mattress and rear end, or something bad has happened. While butt dials are annoying, I would have traded a baker’s dozen for what I was about to hear.
My grandmother had died. It was somewhat expected. But, honestly, does that matter? We’re talking about a woman whose unconditional love and undying belief in people profoundly shaped my life. Where my faith would be without her, I’m not sure.
Thomas Merton once said,
The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them.
This is unconditional love, the willingness to love people for who they are, not who we want them to be. It’s a rare treasure in today’s world. We’d much rather control people, even those closest to us.
My grandmother was far from perfect, but she didn’t change her posture towards me, even when I was far from the man she knew I could be. She continued to call. She continued to encourage. But mostly she continued making me strawberry cakes.
Friends, if we love people for who they might be, let’s not pretend we really love them.
Love is an intentional decision that always happens in the present moment. Love isn’t passive. And you can’t experience it in the past or the future. But mostly, love is freedom. It’s radical acceptance, void of fear or control or manipulation. This is excruciatingly hard. It’s painful.
Just ask Jesus. Well, you can’t really ask him. Read the gospels, that’s what I mean.
I’m not a morning person. A few hours passed before the magnitude of the past week hit me. When it did, I cried a river Justin Timberlake would have been proud of.
We celebrated my grandmother’s life two days later. I had the honor of officiating it. Standing in front of a couple hundred people, I tried to verbalize the depth of my grandmother’s life. The task was impossible. But I tried my very best to honor a woman who so impacted me (and many others). I wore two pairs of underpants because I was sure I would wet one. Fortunately, I didn’t. And I was able to wear the outer pair again the next day.
Here’s deal. The past seven days have been hard on a lot of people. Excruciating. Unbearable. At some point, life pulls the rug out from under everyone. The tug is vicious, the resulting fall viciouser (I know that’s not a word. I enjoy upsetting the grammar police.)
When things fall apart, how do we respond? Especially in light of the present day’s unique challenges. We’re becoming increasingly digital. The cycle of news never stops. The political and social rhetoric is growing increasingly more inflammatory.
How do we move forward amidst these challenges? We could hike the conventional trail of self-medication and avoidance strategies.
Many choose it, no doubt.
It’s the quickest and most accessible path to relief. But the relief is also temporary, like applying a band-aid to a flesh wound. Self-medicating and numbing might stop the bleeding, but quick fixes don’t equip us to live with greater courage and love and joy.
Instead, they leave us more susceptible to the next rug-pulling. And we know this, so we walk a with a greater sense of fear. We build stronger walls, emotionally and physically.
But hard times will return.
When they do, the band-aid fails, the flesh wound grows. A larger band-aid is required each time. More self-medicating. More avoidance strategies. And increasingly stronger ones.
Thus the cycle continues. All the while we avoid true healing.
This road is narrow, the one that leads to healing. Few travel it because the going is slow and it asks too much of us. Vulnerability and risk and forgiveness, to name a few. This road asks us to do something with our pain and anger other than inflicting pain on ourselves and others. It asks us to feel the emotions we try so hard to avoid.
When things fall apart, we have an opportunity to discover God on new and deeper levels. We can choose to take the road less traveled. We can pray for strength to do something with our grief, sorrow, anger and pain besides apply a quick fix to it.
And in doing so, we can be confident, there’s a new level of joy and peace on the other side.
This is the path to true healing. This is the narrow road that leads to Life. Few will find it, Jesus says.
Not because their will is lacking, because their faith is lacking.
When your life falls apart, may you have the strength to take the road less traveled.
Grace and peace, friends.
Frank is lead writer and editor for the blog at Bayside church. He is also a husband, father and Jesus-follower. Occasionally he plays golf. Often he drinks coffee.