When you can’t be there for the people you love
A few days ago my brother got married.
The setting was beautiful and relaxed – an outdoor ceremony by the water. Family and friends gathered for a weekend together. Laughed together, made memories together, welcomed a new member into the family together.
I was on Skype, oceans away. Just after the ceremony I phoned in from a café and was passed around on a smart phone from relative to friend to relative, soaking in the atmosphere and giving everyone virtual hugs. I waved to my mom and dad and blew kisses to my little nephews.
My brother and his new wife (wow – my little brother has a wife!) took time right after the ceremony to talk with me, grinning back from my computer screen with some of the biggest smiles of their lives. It was such a great moment… and all of a sudden I was caught off-guard by emotion and started crying. My brother laughing, “Stop, stop! You’ll make me cry!” It was unexpected and sweet and a bit sad. But I was so glad I got to see my family on one of their happiest days.
The next morning was a quiet one.
I felt the weight of missed opportunities, distant friendships. As I slowly got ready for the day I subconsciously began compiling a list of times I’d not “been there” for the people I love.
– There were two other family weddings I’d missed – the wonderful, heartfelt, fun kind, where everyone gathers from near and far to celebrate. I’d been very pregnant, and unable to travel.
– I remembered a young friend of ours who’d died of cancer – and the wife and two young kids he’d left behind. They had the support of a wonderful church, but I’d wished I’d been there for food-making and babysitting and coffee chats and hugs.
– There were 5 nieces and nephews born – three I’d briefly met, and two I’ve had yet to hug.
– There was the drawn-out family divorce, with enough hurt to go around for everyone.
– There was the middle-of-the-night phone call to my parents, the kind every parent dreads, “Your son was in an accident and is in critical condition” – thank God he lived and recovered!
Each one slowly came to memory as I made my morning coffee, made the bed, and tried to resist the pull of the thought-rut I was in. Each one I’d processed, come to terms with, and released to God along the way. Mostly.
But in weaker moments those memories sometimes came back, parading themselves in front of me like self-pity pageant contestants. If only I’d been able to be there to share in the joy or the sadness! If only I could reach through the computer to share a hug and a laugh.
Then, as it sometimes does so clearly, the words of Jesus from 1 Corinthians 13:5 cut right through:
“Love keeps no record of wrongs.”
In an instant, I saw my situation clearly. God’s voice is like that, isn’t it? It turns everything on its head in a moment. It shines a light on things as they really are.
In a moment I saw that the list I’d been mulling over – the hurts and sadness of being far from people we care about – was replaying in my head as a list of God’s “wrongs” against me. The blame for this list really rested on him. After all, he’d been the one to direct us across cultures. He’s the one who steered our path thousands of miles from friends and the families we love.
Again, God’s voice. “Have I wronged you, Grace?” His voice is full of love – so kind. “Are you able to let go of your list of wrongs? Not because they don’t hurt, but because you love me?”
Notice the chapter does not say, “The righteous person keeps no record of wrongs” or “The mature believer keeps no record of wrongs.” It says LOVE keeps no record of wrongs.
I echoed Simon Peter, answering in my heart, “Lord, you know that I love you” (John 21).
I don’t want anything to come between us, Jesus. Help me to keep from adding to a list – from letting hurts sit between us, rather than bringing them to you. You know that I love you. And I love walking with you in the future you’ve called me to.
There are sure to be more missed moments. People will keep being born, falling in love, facing obstacles, and, one day, dying… until Jesus comes again. And, if we’re blessed to know and love many people, missing out on life together will hurt.
But love keeps no record of wrongs.
Then in the very next line we have this helpful gem; “Love rejoices with the truth” (v.6).
I have so many truths to rejoice in!
The greatest truth of all is that my whole life was a great list of wrongs against God. Yet though I hurt Him again and again, he made a way for me to come near. He delivered his own body into the hands of evil people. Felt the agony of separation from the Father he loved, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
Yet three days later he arose, triumphant! He cancelled the written code that was against us, tore down the wall of sin that separated us from each other, and extended to us the freedom of life together with Him. He remembers our sin no more.
To this great truth I could add truth upon truth of the little goodnesses of God in my life – keeping me connected to family and friends in the moments that matter.
I could tell you about sitting in the waiting room with my parents, hearing the nurses’ report from my brother’s surgery. Then going down the hall and into his room, in the room as my parents saw him for the first time since his car accident, praying with him and telling him I loved him as he woke up – all while on Skype, held on an iPad from miles away.
I could tell you about the privilege of holding up urgent situations in prayer, taking my turn while many of my family slept, many timezones removed.
I could tell you of unexpected money for flights to visit family – giving us family memories we’ll never forget.
I could tell you about staying up late to write emails I prayed over, and receiving replies that encouraged me to keep going.
In all this I rejoice also in the truth that I am gaining family right where I am.
New aunties and uncles have been added into our family. I have older sisters now, and my kids are loved by a wide circle of friends. I’ve asked for forgiveness, and heard in reply, “It’s ok, Grace, you’re like family to me.”
This truth hits home as we see God’s family expanding, right here in the MidEast. The chance to be family together and connect at the deepest level. That joy helps me throw away the list, and throw myself back into living here, where God has called me.
Grace is relieved that her childhood dreams didn’t come true – happy to be on God’s far better adventure with her family in the MidEast. She’s been told her writing makes people cry, and hopes that’s a good thing. Connect with her on Twitter: @ToWinSome