Living in Loss

I’m living in the loss
I’m told it is the cost of truly loving
The un-avoided consequence of opening my heart

It seems unfair

Somehow I thought my choice to love
would shield me from the pain
and yet the opposite is true

To deeply love is partnered with
a deeper hurt than I would feel
if choosing to love less

So loss must be embraced

It must be gathered as a treasure
in the storehouse of my heart
and guarded well

Loss has the power to shape my heart
in ways I have been longing for
Unlikely as it seems it is a gift
a gracious gift
but only if received

Forgive me for resistance to Your ways
for they are good, always good
You’re simply doing what
I’ve always longed for
Shaped into the image of your Son

He, Himself, was also shaped
by living in His loss
as did His Father

He chose His way
I must choose mine
and in so doing follow in His steps

Living in loss
Living in love
Hand in hand they walk me toward eternity

Danny Mullins
June 25, 2016

Unending Love

“I trust in the unending love of God.  His passion toward me is forever and ever.”
Psalm 52:8 The Passion Translation

Despite all the songs, books, sonnets, and plays that have, over the course of centuries, featured love as their focus, I have come to believe that our experience of true love is rare. I certainly don’t intend for that statement to come off as cynical. I don’t feel cynical. It’s simply a realization I am coming to.

In my recent Bible reading, I find myself pausing again and again at passages similar to the one quoted above. Perhaps because verses about how much God loves us are so ubiquitous throughout Scripture (they are literally everywhere), it’s easy to give them the knowing nod of intellectual assent and move on to seemingly more interesting subject matter. That is, without a doubt, an accurate description of my life in previous years. There was no maliciousness in what I did; no intent to dismiss or diminish the truth of how much we are loved.  There was simply so much I didn’t know about God’s love.

David describes a love that was not the experience of my life. That is not an accusation toward anyone; just an observation. It does, I think, reveal the poverty of my experience and understanding of the quality of love the Psalmist describes in the lyrics of his song.  He is deeply affected by the eternal nature of God’s love, specifically for him. If love is not personal, I wonder if it is love at all. He uses the words “unending” and “forever and ever.” God’s love cannot be interrupted. No action or lack of action on my part can prevent the love of God from flowing in my direction. It targets my heart regardless of my response to it. I can accept, receive, abide in, ignore, or reject His love, but whatever my posture and response it does not affect it’s flow toward me. It is, most assuredly, as David describes: unending.

I don’t know how to think about that sort of love. I have intellectual and emotional limitations that hinder my ability from fully grasping the nature and extent of such a love. I live with warped perspectives and misshaped beliefs I have acquired through life in a broken world that causes me to see through a distorted lens. I have come to believe the highest goal for my life is learning, living in, and living out the love of God in this life and the next one.

An analogy comes to mind that I am hesitant to use (but apparently not hesitant enough not to use it). Janet and I have four grown sons. Through the years it’s been our experience that boys and dogs go together, so we’ve had our share of them (boys and dogs). I’m thinking particularly of the last dog we had as a family. His name was Bond. He was a rather big guy (60-70 pounds) and had a beautiful white coat with brindle spots and a ring around one eye. We always got admiring looks when we walked him. After our last son moved out, Bond lived out his remaining years with Janet and I.

I find it somehow comforting and joyous to remember him. He was part of our lives for over a decade. The point of this foray into my family history is that despite the fact that Bond was, at times, the focal point of someone’s anger or frustration; despite the fact he was, from time to time, ignored or neglected; despite the fact he was sometimes treated as an inconvenience and nuisance, he never showed any signs of having anything but love for us.

In moments when he was shown even the slightest affection, you would almost immediately find him sitting at your feet with his head in your lap looking up at you with those large, longing eyes enjoying the time and attention you were giving him. Any negative or angry mistreatment of him never deterred his desire to be with any one of us.

My intention is not to compare the love of God with that of a dog (thus my hesitancy to use the analogy), but it’s a rare thing, in my opinion, to encounter that sort of consistent, undeterred, genuine affection with another human being. It’s certainly not unheard of, but in this life it appears to be uncommon to say the least. Because we have experienced it so infrequently, if at all, we have no reference point for what an encounter with God’s love might look or feel like. Though that sort of love is described in the Bible, illustrated through it’s stories, and lived out through the life of Christ, none of those things guarantee my experience of it. My human experience has generally been one of earning the love and respect of others. Unfortunately, that laid the foundation for how I related to the love of God.

Thankfully, things seem to be changing for me (due entirely, I can assure you, to the grace of God). I am finding myself living in an increasing experience of God’s love. The Scriptures regarding His love are no longer nice sentiments but intensely personal notes from God’s hand to my heart. They stop me in my tracks as my heart considers and enters those living, loving words. I understand it at a heart level more than I ever have. At the same time, I also understand that His love that is yet to be experienced is an ocean compared to the little pond I am currently swimming around in.

I have no means or desire to measure where I am on the continuum of experiencing and living in His love. It is enough to live this moment and reach towards the next one. I am becoming keenly aware that my experience of God’s love is the experience people will have of His love through me. As my experience grows, so grows the expression of His love to others through my life. As I catch a longer glimpse of his “passion toward me”, others notice the perfume of that passion. Perhaps that is what Paul was referring to when he spoke of the “fragrance of Christ.”

Unending. Undeterred. Uninterrupted. And hopefully irresistible to all. The experience of God’s love becomes the fuel for living our lives. The lack of it brings any semblance of living to a halt.

And so Paul prays: “May you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how long, how wide, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” Ephesians 3:18-19 NLT

One

“I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one – as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us…” John 17:21

The Christian mystics describe our journey with God as stages of growth.  Though there are various differences and additions, depending on whom you read, the stages are generally 1) Awakening, 2) Purgation, 3) Illumination, and 4) Union.  Though our Christian walk is a journey that is never fully culminated this side of death, it is also true there is a goal, to use Paul’s words, toward which we press: knowing and being known by God.

Awakening speaks of those initial rays of light that indicate there is something more than darkness.  There is a God.  He can be known.  He desires me.  He delights in me.

Purgation speaks of the stripping away of those things that keep me from knowing Him.  It’s a process God is in charge of.  He, alone, knows  what keeps me from experiencing His loving presence.  In modern vernacular, this stage is Deconstruction: the tearing down of all the false narratives that have been written on the wall of my life.

Illumination is the rewriting of the story.  God’s divine narrative, the only true story, is engraved upon my heart a word, a sentence, a paragraph at a time until the story is fully told.  The light grows brighter.  Darkness continues to fade and the unique creation I am is increasingly revealed.  It is necessary to be a willing partner in the process, but it is the work of God.

Union with God.  Many attempts have been made by those who have traveled far on this journey to describe what union with God is like.  Theresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Julian of Norwich…and more recently Henri Nouwen, Evelyn Underhill, and other dearly devoted followers of Christ.  I cannot write of this stage; only of my longings for it.

In recent months, a yearning grows; a desire to live a life of awareness, an uninterrupted heart-connectedness to One who is always present.  It is already true that God will never be closer to me than He presently is.  Christ’s prayer in John 17 has been answered.  We are one with the Father as Jesus is one with the Father.  Yet, my life often does not reflect that present reality.  Father, Son, and Spirit abide in me.  I am seeking to learn what it means to abide in Them, for in truth I am already there.  In awareness and action, I lag behind.

It is so easy to default to learning language.  I am seeking to learn what it means to abide in Them.  I’m not sure it’s something you learn, at least not in the sense of knowledge.  I’m pretty sure the learning has to do with allowing.  I want to allow and embrace the work of God within my heart, a work I cannot do, a work I can simply embrace.  The wind (Spirit) blows wherever it wills.  We don’t see it.  We only see its effects.  The not seeing  can sometimes be a problem for those of us who imagine we must always understand.

I believe Jesus lived this life as a human being who was constantly aware of His Father’s presence.  I believe it is the life to which I am called.  I believe it’s possible.  My heart yearns for that life.  Perhaps that’s what having Eternal Life means: uninterrupted communion with the Father, a communion that includes but is not dependent on words.  I want to live there, consciously live there.  Help me, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to live there.

As the deer longs for the water, O God, so my soul longs for you.