In 2015 I sat on my pastor’s couch during small group with five other couples in the room. As I tried to put to words the feelings I was experiencing deep in my chest, the corners of his mouth began to turn up into a tender smile. His eyes did that thing dads do when they watch their child finally grasp an abstract idea and turn it into a concrete application. The days leading up to our small group was one washed with renewed understanding of God’s plan for me to live out the Great Commission given to believers of Jesus Christ. A mission, as a barren woman, I took very seriously. This was how God would build his Kingdom through me. And like he promised, he used the suffering of barrenness to prove to me I needed not children born of my own body to be significant, to love deeply, or to know another. “What you’re feeling is the love of a mother, Louisa. But be careful, for your greatest strength in loving will also become your greatest weakness”. Those words were what I needed to hear. They affirmed my being made a woman and declared my identity of a nurturer of life entrusted to me. In my case, the life entrusted to me was through discipleship and spiritually mothering others. Not only did my pastor’s words affirm, but they served as a necessary two- part warning.
The first part of the warning served as a reminder of my humanity and being tempted to form co-dependent relationships, which are not pleasing to the Lord. Co-dependency can take many shapes and forms, but the end result is always idolatry that seeks to hide itself in the form of something good like community and relationships.
The second part of the warning was a warning for my soul. When you love the way a mother loves, you are prone to having your heart broken in a way where people can walk out of your life and take all the love you gifted them with far away, never to be seen or heard from again. The kind of hurt this loss produces is a type of ambiguous grief. The person is alive, but death comes in the form of the ending of a relationship, whether necessary or unnecessary.
Being called to full time vocational ministry only 8 years ago, I’ve had my share of relationships ending for various reasons, but the ones that seem to hurt the worst upon their ending are those where I loved so deeply- where the lines of biological family were crossed and you are given a foretaste of the beauty of a more heavenly, eternal family. When those relationships end, I am not always ready for what proceeds. What comes at the beginning of an ending is a temptation to despair, to put up walls with new relationships, or even practice an unhealthy introversion where I don’t want to invite others in where they can know and feel my love. These times always serve as a reminder to me that my love is not primarily the need those in my path have. I am merely a finger pointing to a greater, more sufficient, never ending love.
There’s an account in Scripture where a relationship had to come to an end. The Bible says that the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David. Jonathan was the son of David’s greatest enemy, King Saul. When they had to end their friendship for David’s safety, the two wept bitterly and affectionately kissed one another knowing there could be a chance the two would never see each other face to face again. There was a bond that went beyond family. This is a foreshadowing of a better covenant, a better friendship in Jesus that never ends. But, what we see is a human response to the ending of a relationship where covenantal love ran deep and the bonds of brotherly affection were what was grieved when it all came to an end. All of this once again reminds me in heaven there will be no endings. Here on this earth, I can give my love freely with the understanding that I will be hurt by the people I love most in this world. Because we are still under the groanings of a fallen world which is subject to the futility of brokenness in each other, I am reminded that what I sow in this world, even in tears, will be reaped in the next with great joy. If our heavenly Father gives such sweet and indescribable gifts here in this world, imagine what will be reaped in the world to come, unhindered by the fallen bodies. We will love one another as we ought, there will be no endings to things, and all the sad things will come untrue. I’ve felt the stinging pain of someone I longed for with the affections of Jesus turning their back on me. It’s a grief almost as significant as the actual death of an individual. When I am tempted to withhold my love, I am not only withholding MY love, but Jesus’ love he wants someone to feel through me. We all know that kind of love has been stomped on and spit upon for millennia. When the temptation to withhold creeps in, Jesus reminds me that to know him is to know him in his sufferings. Sometimes that even means having someone I love so deeply turn their back on me time and time again. I cannot always believe there is something inherently wrong with me for why these relationships end. Welcoming his perfect love to cast out the fear of being punished for something I’ve done wrong in the relationship only allows me to deepen my love for Jesus and the person who ran away. Could it also make room for others to be loved knowing I only have so much space and time to give in my limitedness as a human?
People run away. And when they do, I’ll be waiting, running toward them with arms open wide ready to rejoice with all my best upon their return. That will be true even if the day of their return is the day our heavenly home is ushered in.