An elderly woman’s two daughters dropped by one day to clean her home. Both made the house sparkle, but the first daughter left the impression that her work was a burden. The second was cheery and made her mother feel that her sacrifice was a joy. Both daughters did the same tasks, but the first seemed to do them out of duty alone. The second revealed that her labors were out of love for her mother.
When asked which author he would choose to write his life’s story, author and activist Wendell Berry answered: “A horrible thought. Nobody. As the only person who ever has lived my life, I know that most of it can never be documented, is beyond writing and beyond words.”
One of my favorite Old Testament professors once shared this startling statistic: 40 percent of the psalms in the Bible are songs of lament in which the authors present their heartache and pain to God. But in the catalog of modern worship music, only 5 percent of songs could be considered lament, even by the most generous standards. My prof believes that part of the reason we don’t know how to lament is because modern worship tends to focus more on celebration and less on lamentation.
A young man had been fleeing from the law, and his concerned father tried desperately to reach him. When his son finally called from a city far away, the dad convinced him to turn himself in and even took a flight to retrieve him. As he later described the trip to friends, the loving father said with unmistakable warmth, “He’s my son!”
Yesterday I spoke with a couple whose son became severely ill when he was just five years old. With raw emotions, the husband and wife described how their child collapsed—and their subsequent mad dash to the hospital.
For two and a half years, a visit to my wife’s oncologist was part of our weekly routine. But one visit was different. In a discernably subdued tone, he told us that he was going to stop her treatment. The chemo was no longer effective. My wife had come to the final stage of her fight against a fast-growing, aggressive cancer.
In 2011, a Brazilian fisherman came across a struggling penguin. The tiny creature’s feathers were soaked with oil and it desperately needed food. So the man took the sickly bird home and cared for it. Once it was healthy, he released it and the bird swam happily away.
Every year during Holy Week (the week leading up to Easter), many churches follow Jesus’ example during the Last Supper by washing one another’s feet. Jesus washed His disciples’ feet and told them to imitate what He had done. Washing feet is a prayerful and powerful act, but it can also upset our sense of pride, personal space, and privacy. It can be truly unsettling.
When my children were small, I often read them the bedtime story Guess How Much I Love You. A baby rabbit stretched his arms high and told his daddy he loved him that much. His father had longer arms, so he raised them up and said he loved his son even more. The baby hopped and said he loved his dad that high. The father could jump higher, and so he hopped to show his love was even greater. Finally, the baby rabbit said he loved his daddy all the way to the moon. The father thought for a moment and said, “I love you right up to the moon—and back.”
In Charles M. Schulz’s classic TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas, Charlie Brown set out to buy a Christmas tree. As the play’s director, Charlie was determined that his theatrical work would not reflect the commercialization of Christmas that he saw all around him.
“Do you know what hurts so very much? It’s love. Love is the strongest force in the world, and when it is blocked that means pain. There are two things we can do when this happens. We can kill that love so that it stops hurting. But then of course part of us dies, too. Or we can ask God to open up another route for that love to travel.” —Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place
If you watch Orthodox Jews pray at the Wailing Wall of Jerusalem, you might wonder about the leather band wrapped around their forearms and the box strapped to their heads. The objects are called the tefillin, worn during a prayer ritual that some believe dates back to the time of Moses (Deuteronomy 6:6-8). The process to don the tefillin is very elaborate and must be performed in an exacting manner. This illustrates that in Jesus’ time, Jewish prayer was very focused on the “how”—praying in a specific way.
When our children were young, my wife and I gave them money to buy Christmas presents for us. Why not simply buy the socks or slippers ourselves? Because it meant a great deal to our kids. They wanted to give as well as receive presents, even if it meant using our money.
When I take my kids to a playground, they tumble out of the car and race to the swings or slides. I usually sit on a bench with my purse, containing important medicine, close by. The meds aren’t for me; they’re for my daughter. She has a health condition that can go from bad to worse in seconds. I carry her meds because I don’t want her to have to think about them while she’s playing. How could she dangle from the monkey bars while holding her EpiPen auto-injectors? How could she grasp the metal ropes of a swing while juggling a medication bag?
In spite of my many fatherly mess-ups (and lately I feel as if I’ve had more than a few), my deepest hope for my two sons is that they will know I love them, and that my love comes from God. If you want to prod me to tears, get me to talk about my hopes for my sons. There are few places where I could feel more anxiety than when I consider the uncertain future: Will they grow up to be good men? Will they follow truth and life? But what I do know, without doubt, is that I love my boys fiercely—that I have always done so and will always love them.