Friday, November 18, 2005

A Loveless Eternity

What if we’re wrong? What if we’ve got it all backwards and we all end up in Hell? Well, according to all my non-believing friends, that’s where all the hot guys and girls are going to be, so why not? If Hell is an endless party, I’ll be the first one in line, but if there’s a slight chance it’s something less than that, I’m fighting tooth and nail for a ticket on a different bus. So what exactly is Hell going to be like (and may I please never find this out firsthand!)? It’s been depicted as this black hole of torture with fire that never ceases, people screaming out in pain and terror, and the whole show is run by this crazy little guy with horns, a pitchfork, and a fetish for basking in the suffering of others. Maybe, but what if we’re wrong? What if none of those things are there? What if, just what if…

It isn’t what WILL be in Hell that will be of great consequence, but rather what will NOT be there – God’s love. Have you ever been in love, so deeply in love that the mere thought of being apart seems too intense to bear? Every second feels like an eternity. Your mind is consumed with thoughts of nothing but returning to your true love again, feeling their gentle embrace and gazing into their eyes. Here’s the worst part – you cannot even sleep to numb the pain momentarily. Now imagine that fear of separation actually becomes a reality. Imagine you find yourself in Hell when you die and your Jesus, your savior, the lover of your soul, is nowhere to be found. You are in a loveless eternity, because in Hell, the presence of evil is not quite as disturbing as the absence of good (God). This scares me much more than some pesky flame that I cannot extinguish. The idea of being sans Jesus forever is much more than frightening. It’s excruciating, tormenting, a thirst that cannot be quenched by any worldly object or person, not that either of those things would be available to you in Hell anyway. I keep hearing the voice of that guy who announces movie trailers…”In a world without love, one man stood at the door and knocked, but no one listened. Now, they will have to live with the knowledge that while He walked amongst them, they chose to follow Fleetwood Mac and Not Jesus – they chose to ‘go their own way.’” I hate that guy and his crazy voice of doom, but seriously, he’s right. Love walks amongst us now, but not everyone will reap the benefits of that forever.

So what are we in the afterlife if not entangled in a passionate love affair? Well, Paul describes this scenario in 1 Corinthians 13: 1-3. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” In a loveless eternity, we are nothing and we gain nothing. I think this is the only thing that inspires in me the urge to share Christ with people. And I don’t mean to shove religion down their throats, but to share my Jesus with them. It’s about as close to evangelism as I get. I don’t have a desire to convert the world or win a million souls for Jesus. Maybe I should, but I don’t. When my heart breaks for non-believers, it’s because they don’t know my Jesus. They don’t know how much He loves them, how warm His hugs are and how sweet His kisses are. They don’t know what lengths He would (and did) go to for them, how wide His arms stretch, how ruthlessly He pursues them, and how long He would hang on a tree just to get their attention. If only they knew.

Lord, let them know. In your loudest, deepest movie trailer voice, speak to them and say, “In a world where love slept, one man came to awaken their senses.” Lord, awaken their senses. Let the burden of a loveless eternity be enough to scare the Hell out of them…and out of me and out of my friends and my family…and the people who work at the DMV, Michael Moore and Bill Maher, people with road rage, sports rage, and buyer’s remorse, terrorists, pessimists, and egoists, Bill Gates, Donald Trump, Oprah Winfrey and the homeless. Ah heck, scare the hell out of everyone!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Love 'em or leave 'em (and no, you can't kill 'em)

Marriage has been on my mind a lot lately and not just for obvious reasons. I’ve had the good fortune to witness both new relationships, exciting and hopeful, and relationships on the verge of failure, fighting for one last breath. And yes, I do consider it good fortune that I’ve been a party to both. It sounds strange, I know, but through both, I’ve been challenged to consider further this notion of true love (blegh). Just kidding. I would love to believe that love truly is terminal and that once you’ve found it, you never lose it, but let’s face it, love doesn’t always last. People fall in and out of love on a daily basis. It’s as fleeting as my lunch hour on a Monday. So if love is not enough to make a relationship last, what hope do we have? Let me start with a little definition (ok, a HUGE definition).

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 defines love like this: “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.”

So basically, no one I know has ever been in love, because I have never in my life witnessed a love like this between two human beings, at least not 100% of the time. So maybe this love is not our love for each other, but the only one perfect love that exists – God’s love for us. God is the only one who has ever truly got it right. He knows what love is all about because He is the author of every love story and the singer of every love song. He loved first, He will love last, and every second in between will not just be sprinkled with His love, but flooded with His love for us. I am the one God loves. He’s pretty much nailed down what it means to be in love with us (no pun intended). We are the ones who need a little work in this area - at least I know I do - and that is why the issue has been hanging over my head lately like a ten-ton brick. How am I possibly going to know how to make my marriage work when I can barely remember to feed my cat every day? How do I survive those times in my marriage when my husband and I wonder if we married the wrong person? Those moments (perhaps even years at a time) when we both want out? Those days when I cannot even mutter the word love, let alone continue to feel it? How do I hang on to a commitment to honor and cherish when it feels like a commitment to an insane asylum?

I watched a movie last weekend called The Story of Us, starring Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer. The movie was about their marriage, from beginning to end. Of course, the first few years were nothing short of fulfilling, highlighting the births of their children, the purchase of their first home, and all those other warm, fuzzy moments we believe give life meaning. And they do. Then they hit the tough times and everything starts to crumble. They fight constantly, avoid dealing with each other’s feelings, and harbor resentment toward each other, which eventually leads to their decision to divorce. Years of doing “life” have worn them both out and they can do nothing but throw up their hands, call it a loss, and learn to accept the reality of their situation. What little love they had been clinging to had vanished and they believed the wounds were too deep to heal.

And there you have it folks, I believe THAT is a better representation of love than all those crazy fairy tale versions of it. I don’t expect some knight in shining armor to come sweep me off my feet (cause I’m pretty sure he’d just drop me on my head somewhere down the road anyway). I’m not waiting for Prince Charming to carry me off into the sunset (San Clemente is just fine). And I’m pretty confident that my days of being deemed “snow white” are long gone. So what is love then, if it isn’t pina coladas and getting caught in the rain? Mother Theresa said, “True love is love that causes us pain. That is why we must pray for the courage to love.” Ok, so it’s more along the lines of having a route canal. So what I really need is courage? I’ll work on that one. In the meantime, back to God’s perfect love for us and the problem I have with it…

If God’s love is so perfect and so unfailing and so trustworthy, why does it feel so non-existent sometimes, or even worse, painful, confusing and fleeting? Why is it often frustrating, rather than comforting? Simply stated, why don’t we feel loved all the time if He loves us so much? Here’s a verse that I think is supposed to shed some light on the matter, but offers no real comfort to me (sorry, it’s true). 1 Corinthians 13:12 (yes, the same chapter I alluded to earlier, all about God’s perfect love for us). “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” So basically, it’s another one of those irritating references to the “big picture.” It’s supposed to remind us to be still, to trust in God’s greater plan, to continue to believe in His plans for us. Today we see dimly – someday it’ll all make sense – yada yada yada! I want answers and I want them NOW!!! But I digress. God’s word is trustworthy and His love even more so.

So where do we go from here? Are you ready for this? I’m actually going to try to tie it all together now (God’s love and our worldly love). In The Story of Us, Bruce and Michelle pick us their children at summer camp and are ready to sit them down and share their decision to divorce. Bruce does some stupid dance that embarrasses his son and all at once, Michelle realizes what her marriage is truly all about. She sees every moment they’ve shared, good and bad, every up and every down, every fight and every hug and she is overcome with emotion…and yes, love. You see, the only way I can accurately define love is “history.” And history encompasses everything. It’s the anniversaries and the silent treatments. It’s the candlelight dinners and the TV dinners. It’s the intimate moments we cherish and the pet peeves that drive us crazy. It’s the late night talks and the miscommunications. It’s everything. And if history really repeats itself, then we can expect more of the same for the rest of our lives. We will fight and make up; we will doubt and question; we will cry and laugh, but whatever we do, we should do it together, because that is what love is about. My relationship with God is no different. I cannot simply believe He does not love me because I don’t always feel loved. I have a history with God and that is what keeps me hanging on. They aren’t always fond memories, but they are memories nonetheless. My commitments in this life are pretty pathetic. My relationships with my family and friends, my interests and hobbies, my career path - all of those things are fleeting, but God’s commitment to me is everlasting. It’s solid ground, so try as I may to run from love, it just keeps finding me again. Damn it, I hate that! It’s like being the main character in a neverending novel. I can’t choose to opt out; I’m stuck in it until the very last page is turned and I don’t get to choose the ending either. All I can do is sit tight and go along for the ride.

There’s a poem called “Tonight I Can Write” by Pablo Neruda that always haunts me. He cries out, “Love is so short. Forgetting is so long.” Doesn’t it seem like those moments in which we actually feel loved by God seem to last about as long as a sneeze, but the time we spend longing for that love again seems to last an eternity? And THAT is history…remembering where we’ve been and looking forward to where we’re going…together!

Lord, love my friends and family and help them love each other. Give them the courage to love and the strength to hang on when they don’t. Give them all an A+ in history and an F- in recess. Chain them when they feel like running and unchain them when they feel like dancing. Help them all to stop looking for the perfect love and realize that they already have it. And when they are struggling to make their commitments work…Breathe for them when they feel they can’t take another breath, speak through them when they have nothing left to say, lead them when they’ve lost their way, and sing to them when the music fades.