Editor’s note: With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, we are reminded about the preciousness of love – and how love means something different to each one of us. We asked members of the WhipCity Wordsmiths to share their thoughts on love – and as always – their submissions are thought-provoking, eloquent, and in many cases, personal. Our series today features Stephen Beals of Westfield.
WESTFIELD-Stephen Beals, a transplant from Geneva, N.Y., recently retired as pastor of the West Fayette Presbyterian Church in Geneva. He served as pastor for 12 years after serving as a lay preacher at the same church for eight years prior to officially becoming pastor.
In his earlier career, he was a pre-press manager and freelance technology writer for 30 years, adding there was an approximate five-year overlap with his pastoral work.
He and his wife Karen have two daughters, Marika, a music teacher in Somers, Conn., who has two children, Linnaea, 11, and Graydon, 7, and Lorienne, a professional dancer, dance teacher, and English teacher in Trissino, Italy. Lorienne is also the development director for Story Tapestries, a nonprofit arts organization based in Maryland.
Beals shares his submission titled “The Pain That Comes with Love.”
The Pain That Comes with Love
Being in love makes us vulnerable. It forces us to willingly allow ourselves to be open to pain. In the best and most secure of relationships, pain is inevitable. We cannot truly love someone until we have allowed ourselves to admit that fact and agree to be comfortable with it.
As a pastor, I had to contend with the common belief that Jesus was, in fact, perfect. I understand the need to elevate Christ to a position far above the normal human, and I do not doubt Jesus of Nazareth did have a special relationship with the divine. But I can guarantee that his parents, his brothers and sisters, his friends and his enemies and most certainly his disciples, would have been quick to point out what they considered to be his faults and imperfections.
That doesn’t mean they did not love him. It just meant they were open to feeling pain as they continued to love him. It also means we have no clue what a perfect human being would look like.
To expect someone we love to be perfect: to expect love to be perfect, is delusional. Love is painful. That’s scary. Love is “a many splendored thing”, but it’s also scary. There’s no getting around it.
As a couple in a 48-year marriage with the love of our lives: a marriage that many people have told us is “the perfect marriage,” we appreciate the sentiment, but we are not buying it. Those 48 years were not pain free, and if they had been, we would be in some serious trouble. We would have to be delusional. And that’s not at all what love is.
Love is not combatting or denying pain with the inherently hopeless belief it can be eliminated. Love is accepting pain and learning from it.
It’s something that our political discourse needs to learn. When love starts to come unbound, there are accusations and finger-pointing. We need someone to be at fault. In divorce and in politics, someone must be to blame. In divorce and in politics, someone must be right and the other one wrong. There is no middle ground.
In love, there is always middle ground: always acceptance and forgiveness. Forgiving someone you love doesn’t mean you agree with them: it doesn’t mean they did not cause harm. It only means your love for them survives. “I like you because. I love you although.”
One factor is true of loving relationships that is not true of political ones. We do not live forever. Political systems and societies go on even if they change, but life does not. Someone we love will die if we don’t beat them to it. That raises a lot of fear, because even if we do not fear death for ourselves, we all fear that someone we love will die. What scares us most is that there is absolutely nothing we can do about it.
Love has to grapple with that fact. It has to be prepared for a loss we can never really prepare for. Most of us will have the experience of losing someone we love deeply, and that can be one of the most painful experiences we’ll ever need to survive.
Love means being able to let go of the possessive nature of our love. What hurts about loss of a loved one is not their pain, because their pain is gone. It’s our own pain. It is inherently selfish and destructive. But it is also a part of the grieving process. No one experiences loss without grief.
The beauty and mystery of love is how it gives us the ability to survive that grief. Once we come to terms with loss, we can even better recognize how beautiful and rewarding the experience of love is. If we never allow ourselves to be open to the inevitable pain that comes with loving someone deeply and completely, we can never know the incredible joy of giving our heart away so love can flow back.