When one we love dies, often we try to conform our emotions to expectations of what and how we should be feeling, with emphasis on the “should”. In grief we’re very suggestible to the impressions of others, which is why the “should” sometimes takes on larger than life – and larger than death - proportions.
When this happens perhaps what we’re really feeling is confusion. We’re struggling with what’s deep in our heart from years of conditioning and what others assume is our experience of the one who’s died – reality versus perception. And if our feelings are at odds with each other, it’s tempting to simply flop down on the status quo bean bag chair of our life while we squirm and shift on the inside to find some emotional position that feels right and comfortable. To find our balance within the extremes of grief we must sit in a sturdier seat and take the time to figure out what it is we’re really feeling.
If our inward and outward sense of self don’t match we may question the very nature of love. The experience of love we most long for is the heartwarming, all-consuming kind of love that makes us feel beloved. And when we want to give up everything in the world for the happiness and well-being of another we express belovedness.
But is there a love that exists, even thrives when there’s no fire in the heart? Yes. And this “other” love is as important and valid as deep passion, especially when a relationship seems irreparably flawed and imperfect. Other love allows us to co-exist emotionally with the heart of another without chronic conflict and despair. Only seldom do we give ourselves spiritual and emotional credit for finding and giving this other love.
It’s my experience that other love goes well beyond belovedness because it requires us to be tough, gritty, strong, and selfless. It’s a self-emptying, surprising kind of love that shows us more of God’s love. The most natural reflex of the heart is to love with affection and adoration - other love requires us to rise above our personal pain and lingering hurt. Other love is the stuff of steadfast endurance and bold faith. Other love lights the way through the dark places of our grief.
And even if we don’t feel “real warm affection…” (Romans 12:10 JBP), the love of deep, grace-filled compassion – other love – is ours to give freely. It costs us nothing. Compassion is the response of our soul to suffering, the heart’s urge to feel the pain of another. And though other love sometimes feels a lot like suffering, really it’s more about understanding and allowance beyond the depths of our own human heart.
Expressed as compassion, other love is our response to the gift of God’s vast love for us, “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power…to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-19 NIV).
Other love is authentic and real, it’s a love that reflects our inmost character and spiritual integrity. And with the gift of other love we prove to ourselves who we are - we find out what we’re really made of, “…we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5 NRSV). Other love…the love of compassion, the best of our self.
With everlasting love I will have compassion on you, says the Lord, your Redeemer.
Keep me this day, O God, in the compassion of your love. Amen.