When we are young and looking at things we want to do and be, we set goals and move forward toward them but often we learn it will be harder than we think. That comes to mind often during this season of graduations for young people from every level of educational institution. Those dreams and goals are not impossible but when we set them, we don’t have enough knowledge of ourselves or what lays ahead to be realistic about how many challenges there can be along the way. Perhaps that is God’s grace, so we do not risk starting toward those goals.
We, the generations above them, cheer them on and support their steps offering tips as we can without a desire to discourage and only give them a hint or two about where the potholes might be along the route. That’s our responsibility and our privilege. We are currently cheering on new graduates in our family. One grandson just graduated from college, a granddaughter is about to graduate from high school, and our oldest grandson is about to dig into his third year of medical school. Each of them has a direction, a purpose, family cheering at every step as well as praying for God’s direction, provision, wisdom, and more.
But academic pursuits and new jobs are not the only things we discover might be harder than we think. Some of us look forward to new adventures in new locations and after moving discover that we miss the old haunts we used to visit, the friends from before, and the family we left behind. Making new friends, finding a new church, getting settled in a new place and job are not easy under some of the best of circumstances and yet we do it. If we are blessed to have had people in our lives who believe in us in the stands cheering for us, we know they still are, and we put one foot in front of another and each step teaches us something more. We tuck what we learn into our pockets and memories and use it for the next goal we set.
We discover that relationships are harder than we expected – relationships at every level. They show us how prickly we or others may be, how much we don’t know about how to effectively communicate certain things and we might also discover how hard forgiveness can be when we are hurt (even if the person did not mean to do so).
Then we realize we want to share life with someone and if we are fortunate, we find a person we are willing to commit to for the rest of our lives. We enjoy all the new things we do together and the “falling in love” emotions. We get caught up in the excitement about a future together, planning a wedding, choosing all the little details to make our wedding day special, looking for our first place to live, and dreaming about what the future will be like. We cannot believe it’s all really happening and love and loving feels easy. If we’re fortunate, others have told us that marriage will have challenges and not always be easy and yet we can be so “in love” that the words don’t sink in as we move forward. Even as we repeat the vows on our wedding day and promise those BIG things, our awareness of what that can mean ahead is not in our sight line. We have more to learn than we know we need to learn and that is also a grace to us because God gives us each what we need at the point. We don’t quite grasp that love is often hard.
“This is the human consensus – love is the best thing we do, and it is not a luxury or an option but a necessity if we are to be truly human.
With that quite incredible consensus before us, we are faced with puzzling questions: Why don’t we love more? Why aren’t we better at it? Why do we settle for so much less? Why do we get diverted and distracted from a life of love?”Eugene Peterson in The Hallelujah Banquet
Over and over again scripture exhorts us and is clear that above all else we are to love – first God and then one another. Paul writes about this as does John. All the good things we do (even the best things) count for little if we do not love. And this love is not sloppy syrupy soft loving. It is tenacious, courageous, challenging and often hard. Christ reminds us as believers it is what is supposed to set us apart, show we are somehow different. That difference doesn’t come from how many ways we serve in our church or community or what we try to do to keep showing others that we can love well, but it needs to come from the indwelling Christ who IS love.
It’s that kind of love that helps a new mom cope with no sleep as her new baby adjusts to life outside the womb. It’s the kind of love that sustains us when we stand at the bedside of someone we love who is dying. It’s that kind of love that doesn’t give up when times are hard whether in income, job, or relationships.
Absent the One who IS love we will never be able to do that kind of love. Absent his grace to operate in and through us as fallen and often flailing lovers, we will not be able to do it. Because the truth is that love and loving is harder than we think.
“For love is not what we do after we get the other things done, if we have any energy left over. Love is what we do, period. It is not how we work; it is our work. Other things can support it, they can grow out of it, and they can lead up to it. But if we don’t love, we aren’t doing what we were created and saved to do.”
“Love is what Christ requires of us. It is what he won’t do without.”
“In the end, we will be judged on our love.”Eugene Peterson in The Hallelujah Banquet