Sunday, January 22, 2012

perfect love

Hey folks (folk? the one folk ... anyway). It's been a while; 3 months-ish, and that's mostly due to the weather. It's cold in Yakima, and I don't turn the heat on in my front room (because I'm cheap), and I still don't have a wireless router, so my Internet/ethernet is still just in my front room, and when I sit out there for more than 5 minutes my toes go numb. And I can't exactly blog during work hours. So there it is.

But today my friend and I were talking about how to explain God as perfect love. This is something I've thought about a lot in the past few years, mostly looking at how God's love differs from the love we can have for each other. Watching many good friends go through painful breakups and think that life was hopeless without that person, that that person represented the epitome of love and that they would never find anything equal, has shown me how desperately we all need and deserve something better.

Think of your lowest moment — physically, emotionally, spiritually — and think of who was there for you in that time. I always think of people who have taken care of me when I'm throwing up, because that's a pretty gross experience and for me represents some serious commitment on the part of the observer. My parents are always some of the first to mind, because I've known them the longest and gone through the most with them. But then, you could say that my parents are my parents, so they have to be there for me. So it can be even more revealing when newer friends or people I don't really know step up to the plate and stick with me, with no obligation at all.

Perfect love is love that never, ever fails you. Even my best friends, who have the best intentions and stand beside me through my dark times, can't help but let me down in some way. I say this not to be accusatory; just factual. We are human, and we are fallible, and we are destined to disappoint each other. It's our nature. Sometimes they say something that rubs me the wrong way, or that hurts more than it comforts, or they don't take me seriously when I really need to be heard, or they just don't — can't — understand what exactly I'm feeling.

I struggle with this with my parents a lot. Sometimes I just need them to say, "Yes, this sucks. I know that it sucks, and I'm sorry." But so often — and I do this too — when I start talking, they start proposing solutions or telling me that I'll get over it. And while what they're saying may be true, it's not what I need to hear.

God is perfect love because he just doesn't do any of that.

1 Corinthians 13:4 has gotten tiresome because so many people use it at weddings, but it still rings true. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

Try to put a friend's name in there, or your own name, or any name but God's, and you immediately see why we can't be perfect love for each other. In our heart of hearts, we are at least occasionally self-centered, and we can get worn out from constantly listening to a friend's problems, and we get frustrated when they don't take our advice and end up in the same painful situation over and over. We keep score; we think of how much we've been there for a friend, and feel they owe us the same time and commitment. We feel pride, thinking that we're the best advice-giver or best crying shoulder and then get offended when our friend turns to someone else for counsel. We listen to our friends' problems, but complain about them behind their back and talk about how we would never make the mistakes they're making.

God doesn't.

God listens, and never says "I told you so." God is never too tired to hear our problems, and he never berates us for getting into the same situation over and over again. He delights in our confidences the same way a parent delights in his child bringing its worries to him. He wants us to tell him what's wrong, because he wants to make it better.

And what's more — no matter what we're going through, God understands. He knows. I get so frustrated when I'm struggling with something, and a friend says, "Oh, I tooootally know what you mean; this one time, I had this happen to me and yada yada yada." I want to say, No, you don't know, you couldn't possibly know; this is my life and my pain and it's nothing like what you've experienced.

But God has experienced it all. He's felt the pain of rejection, every time we turn away from him; Christ was mocked and scorned and called a liar and a madman by the world, and he was abandoned by his closest friends. Read The Magician's Nephew from Narnia; there's a moment when the boy is telling Aslan about his dying mother, and he looks up into Aslan's eyes and sees two great shining tears, as if the lion was sorrier for his mother than even he was. "My son; my son," he says. "I know. Grief is great."

God's love is perfect because it comes from a place of perfect understanding.

That understanding also means that God knows us through and through, and still accepts us unconditionally. I tell my parents almost everything, and I have a handful of friends in whom I confide almost all my struggles and falterings, and I'm lucky to know all those people. But they still don't know my deepest, darkest sinful nature. I don't tell them the things that are truly shameful. I am vindictive and petty and unforgiving and jealous and grasping and angry beyond their wildest dreams, and I dare not tell them so, for fear of losing their friendship once they know the real me.

But God does know the real me, and he's not running. He sees all my imperfections and hateful thoughts laid bare, and still wants me and chases after me, like a lovesick teenager who won't listen to anyone's words of caution but cares only for his sweetheart.

God's love is perfect, and we would call it foolhardy if we saw our friends acting that way. We wound him and betray him and ignore him and deliberately disobey him again and again, and he still won't give up on us. Every now and then, I feel the truth of that like a knife, and cannot help but wonder at it ... If I had done everything I've done to God, to one of my human friends, they would never look at me or speak to me again.

I think back to my friends who have suffered excruciating relationships and breakups. Human-relationship love is very tangible and very immediate and present, and so it's easy to get wrapped up in it and think that it's the real deal. But again, we can't help but let each other down, in small ways or big ways, and sooner or later, a lot of relationships fail because of it. Sometimes they fizzle out, but sometimes they tear at the very fiber of our being, and make us sob those sobs that mean our world has ended.

If we believed that the love that person had for us is the be-all, end-all of love in this world, and that we'll never again be loved so well or so deeply, then I don't know how any of us would get out of bed in the morning. What is the point of living if you can never hope to be truly loved again?

Our hope comes from the knowledge that there is a better love out there, a love that never disappoints or cares more about itself than about us, that never lies or cheats or openly insults. We can get out of bed in the morning in the full certainty that God is madly in love with us, flaws and all, and that the thing that excites him most is our process of falling more and more in love with him.

Good parents give us a glimpse of God's perfect love; so do good romantic relationships, good sex (not that I'd know, ahem), and really good friends. And that's the value in those relationships — they point to something bigger, something more real, something more perfect than we can fathom with our tiny human minds. They make us want more. And if done correctly, obediently, they point us back to God, the source of love itself.

Anyway. That got quite preachy, not to mention rambly (though the rambly should be expected by now). But it's something that matters, so hopefully you won't hold it against me.

Love always,