1 John 4:17-21When I started this project 51 weeks ago, I might have suspected my grandmother would not live to see my son’s ninth birthday next Wednesday. I was prepared to engage those feelings of loss when I encountered them in August. I was not, however, expecting to deal with a midnight movie theater shooting in Colorado in July, nor the December tragedy of slaughtered children and adults at an elementary school in Connecticut. And after those two horrible events, which make me question humanity and seek to love even more closely my own special humans, I was in no frame of mind to be confronted with the horrific scenes in the aftermath of Monday afternoon’s bomb explosion at the Boston Marathon.
This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
It was the last day of our annual business trip to participate in the annual meeting of a trade association. This is my fifth consecutive year of attendance, and so no one needed to tell me the man staring at the television in the hotel lobby bar is a Boston resident. It was just as impossible to avoid overhearing his phone call back home, confirming everyone is OK and asking if he should fly back as soon as possible — as it was to get away from the reporters who kept repeating phrases like “two-year-old with a head injury” and “believed to be among the dead is an eight-year-old boy.”
I guess it says something about us as a society that we do not yet seem to be desensitized by these incidents. A columnist I admire pointed out late yesterday there were 38 reported explosions in Iraq on the same day. But whenever I read or heard any accounts — from a report of many people losing limbs to tales of runners leaving the race course and heading straight to a hospital to donate blood — I realized just how quickly my emotions could bubble to the surface.
Far too long ago I gave up the dream of being able to raise my children without having to one day explain to them some sort of tragedy on this scale, or perhaps even larger. And even though the youngest are too small to understand and the oldest unlikely to be willing to process, I’ve known too much senseless violence in my short life to presume they’ll avoid the same exposure. It’s inevitable, which is among the worst parts. They are innocent now, but not for long.
Now my primary hope is for such things to not happen where we live. I can’t imagine willing myself to return to the mall or theme park near our home if it were to be the site of some equally heinous act. Chicago has a particularly violent history, dating as far back as the Fort Dearborn massacre, ut I’ve always been able to go to my favorite places, such as ballparks or museums, without any association to death and loss.
I pray to keep my family safe and it ends up feeling selfish. Why should I be the lucky one to wake and sleep each day with my loved ones healthy and happy? Why do I get to take it for granted that when I leave for work each day I’ll simply return home before dinner? Why have I been blessed to put my son on the school bus each morning and have him bound through the front door each afternoon? Why can’t everyone have this? What is wrong with this world that so many people have had that simple sense of security and comfort torn asunder?
My parents’ next door neighbors are not too much younger than my late grandparents. I used to work in the town where these neighbors graduated high school, and I used to play baseball in the back yard when their grandsons would come visit in the summer. One of those kids, roughly the same age as my younger brother, finished in 10th place in the Boston Marathon Monday, about 12 minutes behind the leader. He was the third-fastest American in the race — a legitimate world-class athlete.
The grandfather next door came over in the morning to watch his grandson cross the finish line on my parents’ television. It probably was one of the proudest moments of his life. And just a few hours later, everything changed — again. I’m so sick of days when everything changes. I’m thrilled to see people respond. I’m encouraged by the first responders and the everyday people whose first thought is, “How do I help?” As a newspaper guy, I’m immensely proud of the reporters and photographers on the street who capture the images and words of these horrible scenes and to live in a society where freedom of the press guarantees we’ll all have access to the information.
But goodness, I’d gladly settle for none of those people, or those like them in cities around the world, to have to be pressed into such service ever again. The thing about all those stories of people overcoming tragedy and exhibiting courage under fire is they require tragedy and fire in the first place. I, for one, have had quite enough.
I am praying for the day when love will be made complete among us — all of us. God’s perfect love has driven from me fear of what will happen to my eternal soul, but there is a lot of fear of what might befall our physical bodies here on Earth. I do not fear death, but that makes me no less ready to weep for the people who suffer these kinds of losses. So many unanswered questions, so much pain. Why? Why? Why? No one will ever have a good enough answer.
But I have steeled my resolve. I will not be a part of this culture of fear and hate. I will love as God commanded, because God first loved me. I will try my best to love like Jesus, to be in God’s world a force of good and not evil. And while I know I’m far from alone in choosing that side, I must acknowledge there is no rest until there is only one side — God’s side — and each day provides me a new chance to stand up for the cause.
I have a lot of hope for my kids, including that they are on this planet far past the day when I am not. And I also hope that maybe if I do everything in my power to make the world a better place, perhaps it actually one day will be for their benefit. And that if they do the same, maybe it will be better again for their children. It’s a tall order, and there are all too many reminders of just how far we have to go before we reach that day.
But we can’t stop. We can’t ever stop. Because love drives out fear. God created us with a capacity to love each other. God sent his Son here to tell us, over and again, to love each other, and then to physically show us what that means to the full extent. And then God sent his Spirit here to live among us, to inspire and encourage and empower us to love each other. What will it take to get us back on track? Not fear. Love. Perfect love. Anything else is not good enough.
A prayer for April 16:
Lord, please bring your peace to us. Help us to set aside the things that make us angry, the hard feelings that cause us to act out and whatever instincts we might have to be in conflict with one another. Whatever it takes, God, remind us we’re all equal in your eyes, as your creation. Help us to see the things that bind us together, and not whatever differences might set us apart. And help me, God, to do whatever I can to bring love where it is needed, to use whatever gifts you’ve given me to share your gift of grace across all boundaries. And thank you for my family, without whom I would not fully appreciate or understand the blessing of simply being here. We are all so lucky. Amen.