Last week a family in our faith community lost a baby. The baby had come too early, and was born with some chromosomal problems, and after one week, Campbell Joy crossed into eternity. The memorial service was one of the saddest scenes I’ve ever encountered: a small coffin over a grave, friends and family huddled in a cold pouring rain. A Hollywood director couldn’t have thought up a more apt setting.
Today, some other friends got news that their baby (due in about 5 – 6 weeks) was too small, and may need to be “delivered” (the doctors said, “taken”, but I’m not comfortable with that language). Because the docs are going to wait a week, I have no idea how serious this could be, and my mind goes to the some less-than-optimistic places. I imagined myself having to walk through the loss of this child: what would I say, how could I be there for them in their pain? I thought of all the other ways that we experience loss in this life, and the roads I’ll have to walk through with my friends, regardless of where they are and when it happens.
To a great degree, I think that love actually is defined by our reaction to others’ pain. It certainly is revealed by it, brought into focus. Engagement with someone else’s pain = love. Retreat away from that pain, and you are retreating from love. I like to tell people, “As a pastor, you don’t get paid for the good days; you get paid for the bad ones.”
All of that lead me to the question, “Why do this community thing?”, which really isn’t the right question. The question is, “Why do this love thing?” If all love will — almost by definition — lead to pain, then why do it at all? I started listing out all of the ways we can experience pain in community:
- Break ups
All of these things will, nearly inevitably, accompany each relationship. And what can we place on the other side of the equation? What balances out this terrible list? “Life” and “Love”? What does that mean?
I think it means a lot, actually. I think that to the degree we weather the pain of relationships, our love and life expand, grow larger and more abundant. To the degree we retreat away from the pain, we shrink a little, atrophy away, grow dimmer. I believe we were designed as “lovers”, that is, to expand and grow into great engagers of humanity, and do you know why?
Because our Creator is the same way. God shows us the way love and pain works: As the very definition of love, God doesn’t shrink away from pain; he engages it, looks it full in the face, and as he does (or did) that, he shows that love overflows and extends in welcome embrace to the other. Ultimately that dialectical embrace of love and pain spilled over to the person of Jesus the Messiah, who simultaneously engaged our pain and revealed the abundant life we are called to.
Engaging pain is a tough deal, but the expansive, abundant life of love on the other side of the equation more than balances scale.