Less than a week after my daughter’s wedding, my husband’s aunt died. Dear Ruth was well into her nineties so it wasn’t a surprise but it was a really sad moment for Paul as he had developed a close relationship with her over the last couple of years while she has been in a nursing home.
With the wedding flowers still filling my dining room, it was time for another trip to the florist to choose pink roses and lilies for the casket. Then today we had a look at the little chapel where her funeral will be. It had beautiful stained glass windows and that musty smell of old church pews and hymnal dust.
And I kept thinking the same thought, over and over again, that life is only as rich as our relationships.
Sweet Aunt Ruth never married or had children. Any colleagues or friends she had have already gone. There will only be 20 people at her funeral, but her nephew wept as he chose flowers for her today. And loving and being loved is what makes life full.
I will never forget arriving at the imposing chapel on the morning of Hannah’s wedding. It was pouring rain and I was running slightly late. As I entered the room and looked around I was completely overwhelmed. It is not very often in life are you in a room with everyone you love. It really doesn’t get much better than that and I still feel so grateful.
But, relationships are hard work. In even the most loving families, churches or friendship groups there are endless opportunities for upsets, misunderstandings, grudges, gossip and pain. No one can hurt us like those who are close.
When I was a child I experienced a terribly painful rejection. For many years afterwards, it marred me and affected how I lived life. When rejection has a hold of you it tells you to hold back, to protect yourself. It whispers that you should love small and give away only what you can live without. The result is a gnawing fear in your soul that you will always love more than you are loved.
But God’s love, this agape gift, calls us to something much bigger and freer.
I recently read 1 Corinthians 13 in the Passion Translation of the Bible.
‘Love is large and incredibly patient. Love is gentle and consistently kind to all. It refuses to be jealous when blessing comes to someone else. Love does not brag about one’s achievements nor inflate its own importance. Love does not traffic in shame and disrespect, nor selfishly seek its own honour. Love is not easily irritated or quick to take offence. Love joyfully celebrates honesty and finds no delight in what is wrong. Love is a safe place of shelter, for it never stops believing the best for others. Love never takes failure as defeat, for it never gives up.‘
God’s love is large and extravagantly generous. It goes the extra mile and turns the other cheek. It will compel you to forgive and to forget and to never give up on anyone. If you let it, it will turn acquaintances into friends and it will bring prodigals home. Agape can fix families and it can fix you.
In God, there is nothing to fear. We can pour our lives out in His service, love past annoyances and offence, forget about ourselves for a bit and trust that He has us in the palm of His hand. We can live a life free from self-promotion, selfishness and self-pity. We can trust our own needs to a good Father and then happily celebrate the blessings of others.
1 Corinthians 13.13b in the Message Bible says, ‘Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly.
I am convinced, the older I get, that this is the only way to live life.
Trust God in every moment of every day. Trust Him when you don’t understand and when things don’t make sense. Trust Him above your circumstances and your feelings. Trust Him because He is good.
Then hope, without exception. Know that everything He promises will come to pass and that one day absolutely everything will be put right. Put all your hope in Jesus, knowing that He has done enough and is enough for you, period.
And finally, love without reservation. Worship God wholeheartedly. Serve Him only out of love, not duty. Show your gratitude with your availability. Love people. Love difficult people. Love them more than your hobbies or vacations or things. Love the people who have hurt and misunderstood you. Love your messy, moody teens and your annoying colleague. Love your ageing aunt whose mind is fading and foggy and who keeps repeating the same stories over and over. Love people who are different than you. Make new friends and treasure old ones.
Decide every day to love with extravagance and sacrificial generosity. This is the path to fullness.