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The Truth of Love and the Love of Truth

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I recently read “The Summer of the Great-grandmother,” by Madeleine L’Engle, which is a non-fiction account of Madeleine’s relationship to, and care for, her 90-year-old mother while she was suffering from atherosclerosis and sliding into senility.  Madeleine writes,

“I do not want to romanticize about Mother’s senility.  I know that there is no turning back the clogging of the arteries, and that there is nothing to look forward to but further decline.  But if I stop here I am blocked in my loving, just as her thinking is blocked by atherosclerosis.

I try to accept the bare factual truth of Mother’s condition…and yet I remember Tallis [Madeleine’s priest/friend] saying once that ‘we are not interested in the love of truth as against the truth of love.’  This does not mean that we are not interested in the love of truth; his statement is one which I have to try to understand with all of me, not just my conscious mind.  The love of truth without the truth of love is usually cold and cruel, I have found.  The truth of love can sometimes be irrational, absurd, and yet it is what makes us grow toward maturity, opens us to joy.”

The love of truth is vitally important.  It anchors us in the soundness of reality:  the reality of our mortality, the juxtaposition of human potential and human limitations, and the letting go of certain expectations in the face of death.  The love of truth also facilitates our understanding that God is present and merciful, not far removed from our suffering.  The love of truth helped Madeleine see that her mother was declining and was not going to get any better.

That is why we need the love of truth and the truth of love both.  We can’t set them against each other.  The truth of love makes one crazy, willing to go to any lengths for the sake of the beloved.  For Madeleine that summer, it was to change her mother’s soiled bedsheets every day, to hold in her arms the woman who was no longer the witty and self-assured woman that Madeleine used to know.  The truth of love got her through the day.

Let us not be blocked in our loving, whether it be by the sometimes aloofness of the love of truth or by the occasionally-claustrophobic closeness of the truth of love.  May your love have the quality of being able to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things (1 Cor 13:7).  May you be opened to joy as you care for those whom God has placed in your midst.

Say Something Nice

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One of my favorite people in the world is a woman by the name of Megan Cullip.  Megan and I met as grad students, and I appreciated Megan greatly because she is funny, astute, and honest: willing to admit her own brokenness and have compassion on others in their brokenness. One day, during our first year of seminary, Megan was walking in downtown Princeton, New Jersey, and a high school student stopped her and asked for her help.  He was doing a project for school, and he had set up a podium, a microphone, and a sign that read “Say Something Nice.”

Unlike me, Megan is spontaneous, and she can easily speak off the cuff.  She walked straight up to the podium, grabbed the microphone, and produced this little gem of wisdom:

“Love is real, and you are very well loved.”

Yes! What I love about what Megan said that day is that it wasn’t merely something nice; it is something true. We can say it with conviction. We can say it with hope. We say it with the reassurance that it is true for others and it is true for us. The phrase has had a lot of resonance for me, and I wasn’t the only one who felt that way: our friend group wholly embraced the phrase so that nearly every conversation, every phone call, and every email ended with “Love is real, and you are very well loved.”

Love is real: it is not false nor full of guile.  It is sincere.  And this genuine, real-deal love is with you and for you.  You’re not just occasionally loved or somewhat loved, but rather you are completely, consistently, and perfectly loved. My prayer is that every day you are speaking this truth, internalizing it, and embodying it:  “Love is real, and you are very well loved.”  

“We have known and believe the love that God has for us.” -1 John 4:16a

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