I think when I’m running after work. It’s therapeutic; I leave the day on the road behind me. God often speaks to me while I run (I know some of you are thinking, “He speaks to me, too. He tells me ‘don’t run!’” Don’t be a hater). Tonight, I was thinking about some of my friends, leading Grace, and my family, and a thought came to me: there’s really no love without suffering.
Some of you who have lived longer or harder than I are thinking, “Duh!” right now. For the rest of you, think about it. Unless you married your high school sweetheart, the first time you ever loved someone, it inevitably ended in heartache. If it didn’t, we wouldn’t even have country music. Many of the best words ever penned, and most of the best music ever written, deal with suffering associated with love. When your son or daughter first gets their heart broken, in addition to being sad for them, aren’t you a little relieved? They’re actually learning a very important truth.
And, speaking of kids, is there anyone who can cause you more pain and agony than those little buggers? When we had ours, I learned what it meant to love so much that you would step in front of a car for someone without even thinking about it. They bring you endless joy, but, man, they completely suck the life out of you, too, don’t they? They’re little people problems make you sad and, trust me, their big people problems cut you to the bone. In fact, when we talk about how much we love them, we usually do so in terms of jumping in front of cars or bullets, as if we instinctively know that loving them that much will bring about painful sacrifice for us.
When you’re married for any length of time, you realize quickly that one of the primary goals of marriage is to use the other person to carve off most of the really nasty parts of your personality. They call it “sanctification,” but it’s painful. It results in a love that can be greater than any commitment you’ve ever made or ever will make to anyone in your life, a love that becomes part of you, deep into your soul. But, mostly after it’s scraped off a lot of selfishness, pride, and me-ism, like a wound that’s debrided so it can heal.
There are people who take great pains to try to have the love but avoid the suffering by building a shell around their heart. They think they can screen out the pain, and just let the “good stuff” in. And, in the process, they endure the greatest suffering of all- the suffering of intentionally not loving. Because here’s the thing: the price of love is suffering. Love requires vulnerability. Vulnerability means openness to the world’s ways. And, the world’s ways include pain. It’s the price of admission, and you’ve got to pay to play.
If you read far enough in the Bible to get to the last two chapters of Revelation, to see that our eternal destiny isn’t actually in Heaven, but in resurrection bodies in the earth reborn, you see things are different. We’ll love perfectly, and suffer not at all. In the meantime, God has written suffering onto the human heart, and tied it inextricably with love. I think He’s done that for a reason: to teach us that, when it came time for Him to show us the greatest act of love He ever could, it was an act of suffering. To sacrifice and suffer for the good of one’s people is the greatest act of love. Paradoxically, there is no greater joy.