Love and Suffering. And Chocolate-Covered Strawberries.

Chocolate Covered Strawberry's in the Four Sea...
Image by Andrew-Hyde via Flickr

I am the kind-of guy who writes poetry and asks his wife for hugs.  Maybe you’d say I’m a modern guy in touch with his emotions.  Maybe you’d say I’m a wimp in desperate need of cajones.  Whichever is fine.  That’s not really my point right now.

My point is that I talk the talk about seeing the importance of love.  I put on quite a show.

And yet…

There has been this struggle in my life which I did not react to in a loving way.  For a really long time.  I stunted some relationships.  I hurt some people.  I lost out on a lot of possibilities, a lot of things I might have experienced with somebody really precious in my life.

I know that a part of love is firmness.  And the thing is, that I used this truth.  I used it to manipulate and justify.  In a variety of different ways, I said to myself and others, “The way I am going to love this person is to be firm and hold them accountable.”

But the truth is that what I was doing was avoiding the fullness of this person’s struggles.  I was holding them “accountable” for things that they had no control over.  I was expecting the impossible.

I was doing this because I care deeply for this person, and I didn’t want to really grapple with how great their struggle was.  I didn’t want to agnowledge that God allows suffering on this level to happen.  It is so much easier to think things are someone else’s fault.  Even when we claim to love them.

I realize that this is vague and abstract.  But the reason I’m writing this is because I had this learning experience that I’m just beginning to be able to put into words, and it’s something I wished I had learned a long time ago…

Saying “love” is easy.  Putting on a show is easy.  Even playing the heavy, being full of responsibility, accountability, and expectations… this can be easy.

Entering into suffering is the real deal though.  It’s what Jesus did.  He entered into the world’s pain.  That’s what the crucifixion is about.  It’s not about holding us responsible for the bad things we did.  It’s not about making our suffering suddenly disapear.  It’s about suffering with us.

Even toddlers can offer up hugs.  Even Drill Sergeants can hold people responsible.  Read a couple self-help books, and you probably will have some useful advice.

I know that people say that we need both love and justice.  And I think that’s right.  But love, love is like strawberries.  And justice, justice is dark chocolate.   And the question is this:

Do we want chocolate covered strawberries?  Or strawberry covered chocolate?

Is love going to be at the center, draped in justice?  Or is justice going to be at the center, prettied up with love on the surface?

But none of these are as important as a deep level of love: suffering with somebody.  And going even deeper… the deepest level of love: Suffering for somebody.

Maybe (Hopefully!) there were people a little quicker on the learning curve than me.  But as for myself, I can say that it’s taken me about 4 decades to start to really glimpse this reality.  In some strange way, we are built to love.  But to unmask this potential, to really do it right: it’s a hard lesson, that takes a lot of time to learn.  It’s one I’m just taking baby steps at.

How about you?  How are you doing on this part of the journey?


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

One thought on “Love and Suffering. And Chocolate-Covered Strawberries.”

  1. I remind myself everyday at morning Mass that I am called to give of myself, that ‘love is a verb’ (See Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits for a great explanation of this) and, yes, that Christ gave himself for us, even more so, his father gave his only son for us.

    I do not think I do well in this category (thus the daily reminder) – but I think I am less selfish than I used to be and less ‘self-CENTERED’.

    So, I agree with you that it is a hard road, not so hard in the loving as it is in recognizing what love really is and who it calls us to be. We are built to love, and in our current self-serving, self-satisfying society that is hard to recognize beyond the ‘feel good feeling’ of love. Teaching it to children is even harder, but I think my kids get it at certain moments – that they understand that the little things and the support and the help and the discipline come from love for them. It is much harder for spouses to demonstrate this for eachother – but it is the more important love to see. Even for the kids – they need to see the self-less example of their parents for others, then they will learn something of the meaning of the verb ‘love’.

    Thanks for another great and thought provoking post,

    best & blessings, Alexis


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