Love in Difficult Times

I’m going to warn you straightaway that it is likely that you won’t enjoy reading this post. Frankly, I don’t like it much. It cuts deep in two ways: I’m selfish and what I’m about to write confronts that; and it is a heavy thing to consider the doubt, fear, hurt, and suffering people are experiencing. However, whether you enjoy it or not is probably up to you, regardless; and you’ll probably learn a little bit about me and my family, while hopefully being challenged to follow the way of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit more faithfully…

Early in our marriage Stephanie and I enjoyed a number of activities and adventures together. Particularly, we played in a few soccer leagues together. As time went on she began experiencing a myriad of health issues, most significantly debilitating fatigue. Playing soccer one afternoon or evening meant three days of recovery. Symptoms worsened, daily tasks became difficult to accomplish, the adventures changed, and at times we were just trying to survive. There were better weeks or months, but life has certainly changed. Through the wisdom of a doctor (we’ve seen many) we’ve recently discovered that along with a few other underlying issues she has an autoimmune disease.

Over the years I’ve watched the love of my life, who could school me in soccer if I didn’t use my weight to push her around, have to let go of so much of what she loves to do. At the same time I’ve had to confront my own selfishness, and I haven’t always done that well. The vows that we took as we pledged our love for one another necessitates that I lay aside my wishes, my choices, my “free-time” for her sake and for the sake of our children. But even more importantly than my marriage vow, the calling placed on me as a follower of Christ is to sacrificially love all people around me.

Consider the following:

John 15:12-17

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”

Ephesians 5:1-2

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3

And I will show you a still more excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

And in Luke chapter 10 Jesus confronts a religious lawyer, who is likely looking for a way out of loving certain people, by sharing a story of how someone robbed and left for dead is helped by an unlikely person who simply sacrifices his own resources to benefit one in need.

As I give thought to the current state of life in this broken world right now I’m struck by the variety of responses I am witnessing in the people I am talking to and in the media. I’m sure you’ve seen the same variety. There are a few responses amongst my Christian brothers and sisters that have concerned me. What concerns me the most is hearing people who plan to continue life as normal, gathering together, scoffing at the authorities’ recommendations, etc. I’m convinced that such responses are born out of self-centered desires. It is natural when we are asked to bear a burden to consider whether such is reasonable, fair, deserved, or whether the cost outweighs the benefit to ourselves. Jesus’ life and teaching sweeps those considerations off the table when it comes to choosing whether or how to serve those around us. If, when asked to bear a burden, the considerations revolve around how God would have us respond wisely with love and grace, particularly toward those weaker or more vulnerable, we will make different choices—our lives will look different.

Truth be told, I’m deeply uncomfortable with our government controlling individual behaviors and limiting liberty. I also have a hard time trusting medical authorities at times. However, in our current situation the encouragement to change our individual pattern of life, to “social-distance,” observe hygiene practices (that should be common anyway), and the like are a matter of sacrificial love for me.

It is highly unlikely that I personally will get very ill through the spread of COVID-19. But there are people I care deeply about who are doctors and nurses and are already at serious personal risk. I’m intimately connected with many who are in the high-risk category for contracting this virus and having great difficulty with it. People who are in their later years of life, people who have health conditions that put them at greater risk. So I choose to be somewhat isolated. And let me tell you I cannot stand isolation! I am an in-person people person. I get an immense amount of joy just being with others, sharing stories, eating good food, playing games, and more.

To follow the way of love that Jesus Christ demonstrated while on earth, and ultimately in the sacrifice he made by willingly laying down his life for the redemption of many, is to willingly let go of our personal freedom, personal resources, and more for the sake of those around us. For those of us who are disciples of Christ, we must ask ourselves - Will my inaction do harm to another, or put them at risk of harm? Is there action I can take that will reduce the harm another may experience?

So for now, even though there is a hole in my heart from not being with people, I’ll avoid it. And when I am able to see people, I’ll go to great lengths to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The extra work is worth the effort if by my action I am able to love my neighbor well.

Pastor Matt