I’ve been studying this picture. I took it this past weekend with my very patient boyfriend. The artist in me wants a way to convey through a photograph the way that he cares for me through my chronic illness. But for all the words this picture is worth, it’s not sufficient. If I post it alone with no description, your mind might imagine the meaning behind it. You might imagine a story leading up to it. It you’re creative, perhaps you’ll pen your own tale to accompany the tenderness in this shot. But unless I tell you the reality of it all the photograph won’t mean to you what it means to me.
This is only a glimpse of the reality of our life together. You cannot see in this photo the story of how it came to be that he wrapped his arms around me and I felt safe. You don’t see here the nights I cried, the times I prayed harder than I ever thought possible, the time he was brave in admitting his cowardice, the times my words cut deep, the time he gave me up for my own good and I let him go for his. There’s no way, in this single snapshot, for you to see the moments when our hearts don’t mesh. You can’t look at this and see the reality that love is somehow the greatest shelter and the greatest storm your heart will ever know.
Sometimes it’s easier not to love. And the belief that hearts are only broken when relationships fall apart is untrue. The reality is that true love breaks your heart. It breaks down your selfishness and wounds your pride while at the same time tugging hard at your empathy and kindness. It opens up your heart in a way that exposes your insecurities and imperfections. It ties your heart all up in the heart of another human being, imperfect and fallen.
And that isn’t just a poetic way to express something beautifully flawed, it’s reality. It’s I-feel-misunderstood-because-you-didn’t-respond-how-I-wanted-you-to, please-be-patient-with-me, you’re-not-pulling-your-weight, what-you-said-really-hurt kind of reality. When I look at that picture I see the high points and the low. I see the days I’m impossible because of emotional issues tied into chronic illness, I see the weeks when he hardly has a moment to breath and he’s overwhelmed because he’s working two jobs and putting his all into a difficult major. I see the times when we’ve both been broken and are too weak to do anything but cling together and trust God. I see his smile as he crawled out of the backseat of that little car for our first date, flowers in hand and smelling strongly of aftershave. I see that time in the ER when we laughed so hard and the night in the psychiatric ward when I was sure I’d scared him away with my troubles. When I look at that photo I see the man who told me he didn’t think he’d ever be able to lead me spiritually and then remember every way he’s done just that. We don’t love each other perfectly, but we’re learning and growing in our love every day.
And people look at that picture and they say, “I want that. I want that kind of love.” In fact, I believe there’s a longing in each of us for a love like that. It’s part of being human. It’s part of how God created us.
But in that longing for love we settle, because the reality is that the kind of love we desire can only be fashioned through tears and selflessness and heart-breaking hard work. What we see in one snapshot is the results of that hard work. And we want those results, but we don’t want to do the hard work. So we settle for imitations; things that look like the real thing, but won’t last. This isn’t simply true of love, but of many factors of life.
Especially in our relationship with Christ. We see other Christians and say, “Man, I want that kind of faith. I want that kind of relationship with God. I want those blessings.” But all of those things flow from adversity and we don’t want that. We want the goods without the hard work, but we have to realize that the hard work is what makes the goods SO good.
Of course we don’t like difficulty, but if we spend our entire life avoiding it we’ll also be avoiding the blessings that come with it. Pain and suffering and trials and trouble are the reality of life. Not only are they reality, but they are essential tools by which we are sanctified and grown. Money cannot buy the kind of trust in God that you will learn through being completely and utterly dependent upon Him.
When you see a snapshot of another Christian’s life and your mind tells you, “I want that. I wish it were as easy for me to love God as it is for them.” realize that the love and dependance they have upon God flows directly from the times in their life when they were broken and lost and hurting and found that their only cure was Christ. God doesn’t just drop the fruits of the Spirit down from heaven, wrapped in a bow with a cheery note. If we could gain these so easily they would be meaningless to us.
Don’t settle for an imitation of the snapshot in order to avoid the reality that brings such a blessing about.
“It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces. Your hands have made and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn your commandments. Those who fear you shall see me and rejoice, because I have hoped in your word. I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. Let your steadfast love comfort me according to your promise to your servant. Let your mercy come to me, that I may live; for your law is my delight. Let the insolent be put to shame, because they have wronged me with falsehood; as for me, I will meditate on your precepts. Let those who fear you turn to me, that they may know your testimonies. May my heart be blameless in your statutes, that I may not be put to shame! My soul longs for your salvation; I hope in your word.” -Psalm 119:71-81