Sitting in a wedding this summer listening again to the beautiful vows given in a spirit of utter devotion I thought about how that love will be expressed in the future. Love in marriage is so much more than loving each other, it extends to embrace two families, and maybe children, it reaches into a community. On my wedding day I thought it was about Martin and me. I never foresaw that I would be at the bedside of my father-in-law when he was dying or washing and dressing my mother-in-law when she broke her arm. Loving my husband brought new people to love and serve, loving my children does the same, as does loving my friends and so it goes on. I haven’t even begun to mention my church family. Of course it is impossible to be there for everyone – love is a constant juggle of seeking to care for those around you as best you can and feeling that you fail most of the time. I cannot physically be involved with all of those people and can only manage little bits of things at a time.
Love is impossible. Compassion, care, generosity, seeking the welfare of others, other person centeredness can all be achieved to a limited degree but it is always restricted by our humanity and the falleness of our world. Even in the best of families love will fail, in the stream of life someone will feel neglected, in the compromises someone will feel let down. Love as an emotion may be present in abundance but absent in action.
The child who quietly gets on with life feels neglected by parents whose attention is directed to a more demanding sibling. The elderly parents who never ask but long for their grown up child to visit or call whilst understanding the pressures that enforce their separation. The friend who misses evenings out and chat time with their now married friend. Things change, new responsibilities appear, demands come, and left somewhere in the background are old relationships, neglected and pushed aside.
We are used to this – the limitations of our love. We understand the need to have priorities, and the juggle of responsibilities. The pain of realizing the limitation of others love hit me hard at two crisis points in my life. Looking back now at one of those scenarios I am not resentful but grateful to receive what that person is able to give - the limitations of their love is a joy to know and experience. I was the one who had to learn that even with the best intentions people who care cannot always be there for you. The other situation still feels complex because it was bound up in legalist inflexibility. We need to look carefully at ourselves when we put boundaries up in our relationships.
Jesus said 'greater love has no man than this that he lays down his life for his friends' (John 15:13). I don’t do this even metaphorically. Jesus was the only one who truly laid down his life. As I grapple with my own inability to love I look to the one who truly loved with an impossible love. His love on the cross is powerful for all people, everywhere through the whole of history. His love is impossibly wonderful. He does not have to say say “sorry I’m really caught up with things at the moment I can’t help you.” His love is not limited by time, by geography, by being committed elsewhere or by being inadequate to the task. His love is powerful, boundless, vast, and totally inclusive. It is amazing to be loved by our heavenly Father who is never too busy to care.