Every day we wake up to dozens of choices that stretch before us. Even though we may be glum or feel controlled and believe we have no choice, we do. Yes, sometimes our perception is distorted so that we believe there are no choices before us but that is not reality. If we believe that, we often decide not to make a choice and that is indeed a choice. And just because we try to deny reality doesn’t mean we don’t experience the consequences of our choices (even if we believe we made none and are victims).
Is it possible sometimes that we don’t believe or want to make a choice because something inside of us knows we will be responsible for that choice (even if only in response to the choice of another person)? Mankind seems to have tried to duck out on responsibility for choices since the Garden of Eden where we first tried “the blame game”.
Living means we will be faced with many hard choices beyond those we first are asked to make when we are a child. Sometimes they are hard because they represent more than one option and none of them appeal to us and sometimes, they are hard because more than one appeals to us. They can mean life or death but not just physical death.
The hardest choices relate to what we do with the command to love God and love one another. Our decisions on those can mean spiritual death and yet we can get so caught up in the day-to-day choices stacked before us, we often do not consider whether how I have responded to any of them or any one of them with love. There are no off ramps or excuses on these two commands regarding being busy or tired or overwhelmed or ill even though those things are understandable. Nor can we avoid the truth that it is on these two commands we will be judged in how we lived our lives.
Sadly, most of us are not likely getting very good grades on these things because they don’t relate to only those people that we agree with or care about. They include our enemies and those who treat us poorly. Present day culture gives us more than a few reasons to struggle with choices to love our enemies or even what that means without compromising values and integrity.
We can miss the big picture far too often as we seek to protect ourselves or someone else from what is going on inside of us and that gets in the way of living authentically.
As I have revisited the life of David throughout 1 and 2 Samuel and seen his many choices, I gain hope for my own flawed choices, but I also see someone who spent a great deal of time loving well because of caring for people and respecting God’s sovereignty. That was front and center in his complex relationships with King Saul and Jonathan. He served and honored King Saul all his life, recognizing God anointed him as king despite what became an obsessive hatred of David and a desire to murder him. The impact on his relationship with Jonathan could have been a mess and yet it seemed to bring out the best in both. They loved each other without needing each other emotionally and could handle maintaining that love and friendship even when separated from one another. They both accepted that living life meant there would be pain and it wasn’t just an idea for them. It was tangible each day.
When David learns of the death of King Saul and Jonathan, one an enemy and one a friend, he laments according to 2 Samuel. That word, lament, is not one often used today even when we speak about grief and loss, and I wonder if we have lost something in understanding the depth of what lament means.
The dictionary definition of lament is “a passionate expression of grief or sorrow”. Have we become so reserved we have ceased to be able to experience passionate expressions of grief or sorrow? Or have we stopped loving deeply or been in so much denial that we no longer live life authentically, as it really is?
When King Saul and Jonathan are killed in battle with the Philistines, David doesn’t rejoice in King Saul’s death and weep over Jonathan, he laments them both as he honored King Saul throughout his life. David’s sorrow pours out of him in poetry we read in 2 Samuel 1, and it acknowledges both men that are now gone.
David chose to love with a love we do not often emulate or understand that is defined in Hebrew as hesed love. You may wonder what hesed love means. Hesed is not merely an emotion or feeling but involves action on behalf of someone who is in need. Hesed describes a sense of love and loyalty that inspires merciful and compassionate behavior toward another person. That was the love David had for King Saul and Jonathan and when they were killed, he lamented and ordered the people under his leadership to lament and learn what he had written and make it part of their own experience. He wanted it worked into their lives. Such was the honor of his hesed love.
There is something significant for us to understand, learn, and have worked into us in this aspect of David’s heart and life about our choices and how we love.
“Teach this lament. Teach this way of dealing with Saul’s enmity and Jonathan’s love. Teach one another how to take seriously these great cadences of pain, some coming from hate, some coming from love, so that we’re not diminished but are deepened by them – find God in them, and beauty. Put forms and rhythm and song to them. Pain isn’t the worst thing. Being hated isn’t the worst thing. Being separated from the one you love isn’t the worst thing. Death isn’t the worst thing. The worst thing is failing to deal with reality and becoming disconnected from what is actual. The worst thing is trivializing the honorable, desecrating the sacred.”Eugene Peterson
Eugene Peterson goes on to say in Leap over a Wall: “If we’re not taught to lament with this lamentation, we’ll grow up believing that our immediate feelings determine our fate. We’ll deny every rejection and thereby be controlled by rejection. We’ll avoid every frustration and thereby be diminished by frustration. Year by year, as we deny and avoid pain and losses, the rejection and frustrations, we’ll become less and less, trivial and trivializing, empty shells with smiley faces painted on them.”