Why can't I stop thinking about it? My emotions were a tangled mess of sadness, guilt, anger, and confusion.
Years ago, I’d made the painful decision to cut ties with someone close to me, after attempts to address deeply hurtful behavior were merely met with dismissal and denial. Today, after hearing she was in town visiting, my thoughts had spiraled into hashing and rehashing the past.
As I struggled to calm my thoughts, I heard a song playing on the radio. The song expressed not just the anguish of betrayal, but also a profound longing for change and healing in the person who’d caused harm. Tears filled my eyes as I soaked in the haunting ballad giving voice to my own deepest longings.
“Love must be sincere,” the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 12:9, a reminder that not all that passes for love is genuine. Yet our heart’s deepest longing is to know real love—love that isn’t self-serving or manipulative, but compassionate and self-giving (vv. 11–13). Love that’s not a fear-driven need for control but a joyful commitment to each other’s well-being (vv. 11–13).
And that’s the good news, the gospel. Because of Jesus, we can finally know and share a love we can trust—a love that will never cause us harm (13:10). To live in His love is to be free.
After receiving the devastating diagnosis of a rare and incurable brain cancer, Caroline found renewed hope and purpose through providing a unique service: volunteering photography services for critically ill children and their families. Through this service, families could capture the precious moments shared with their children, both in grief and “the moments of grace and beauty we assume don’t exist in those desperate places. In the hardest moments imaginable, those families . . . choose to love, despite and because of it all.”
There’s something unspeakably powerful about capturing the truth of grief—both the devastating reality of it and the ways in which we experience beauty and hope in the midst of it.
Much of the book of Job is like a photograph of grief—capturing honestly Job’s journey through devastating loss (1:18–19). After sitting with Job several days, his friends wearied of his grief, resorting to minimizing it or explaining it away as God’s judgment. But Job would have none of it, insisting that what he was going through mattered, and wishing that the testimony of his experience would be “engraved in rock forever!” (19:24).
Through the book of Job, it was “engraved”—in a way that points us in our grief to the living God (vv. 26–27), who meets us in our pain, carrying us through death into resurrection life.
It was a hard day when my husband found out that, like so many others, he too would soon be furloughed from employment as a result of the COVID pandemic. We knew that we likely had no reason to fear that our basic needs would not be met, but the uncertainty was still terrifying.
As I processed my jumbled emotions, I found myself revisiting a favorite poem by sixteenth-century reformer John of the Cross. Entitled “I Went In, I Knew Not Where,” the poem depicts the wonder to be found in a journey of surrender, when, going “past the boundaries of knowing,” we learn to “discern the Divine in all its guises.” And so that’s what my husband and I are trying to do during this season, to turn our focus from what we can control and understand to the unexpected, mysterious, and beautiful ways God can be found all around us.
The apostle Paul invited believers to a journey from the seen to the unseen, from outward to inward realities, and from temporary struggles to the “eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Paul urged this, not because he lacked compassion for their struggles. He knew it would be through letting go of what they could understand that they could experience the comfort, joy, and hope they so desperately needed (vv. 10, 15–16). They could know the wonder of Christ’s life making all things new.
Writer Marilyn McEntyre shares the story of learning from a friend that “the opposite of envy is celebration.” Despite this friend’s physical disability and chronic pain, which limited her ability to develop her talents in the ways she’d hoped, she was somehow able to uniquely embody joy and to celebrate with others, bringing “appreciation into every encounter” before she passed away.
That insight—“the opposite of envy is celebration”—lingers with me, reminding me of friends in my own life who seem to live out this kind of comparison-free, deep, and genuine joy for others.
Envy is an easy trap to fall into. It feeds on our deepest vulnerabilities, wounds, and fears, whispering that if we were only more like so-and-so, we wouldn’t be struggling, and we wouldn’t be feeling bad.
As Peter reminded new believers in 1 Peter 2, the only way to “rid [ourselves]” of the lies that envy tells us is to be deeply rooted in the truth, to “have tasted”—deeply experienced—"that the Lord is good” (vv. 1–3). We can freely “love one another deeply, from the heart” (1:22) when we know the true source of our joy—“the living and enduring word of God” (v. 23).
And we can surrender comparison when we remember who we really are—beloved members of “a chosen people, . . . God’s special possession,” “called . . . out of darkness into his wonderful light” (2:9).
“Perfectionism is one of the scariest words I know,” Kathleen Norris writes, thoughtfully contrasting modern-day perfectionism with the “perfection” described in Matthew. Modern-day perfectionism she describes as a “a serious psychological affliction that makes people too timid to take necessary risks.” But the word translated “perfect” in Matthew actually means mature, complete, or whole. Norris concludes, “To be perfect . . . is to make room for growth [and become] mature enough to give ourselves to others.”
Understanding perfection this way helps makes sense of the profound story told in Matthew 19, where a man asks Jesus what good he can do that will be rewarded in the life to come (v. 16). Jesus responds, “Keep the commandments” (v. 17). The man thought he’d obeyed all of them, yet he still knew something was missing. “What do I still lack?” (v. 20) he asks.
That’s when Jesus identifies the man’s wealth as the vise-grip stifling his heart. “If you want to be perfect” (v. 21), He responds—whole, open to giving to and receiving from others in God’s kingdom—then he must be willing to let go of what’s been closing off his heart from others.
Each of us has our own version of this—possessions or habits we cling to as a futile attempt to control. Today, hear Jesus’ gentle invitation to surrender—and find freedom in the wholeness that’s only possible in Him (v. 26).
“The shepherd needs great wisdom and a thousand eyes,” wrote the beloved church father John Chrysostom, “to examine the soul’s condition from every angle.” Chrysostom wrote these words as part of a discussion on the complexity of caring well for others spiritually. Since it’s impossible to force anyone to heal, he emphasized, reaching others’ hearts requires great empathy and compassion.
But that doesn’t mean never causing pain, Chrysostom cautioned, because “if you behave too leniently to one who needs deep surgery, and do not make a deep incision in one who requires it, you mutilate yet miss the cancer. But if you make the needed incision without mercy, often the patient, in despair at his sufferings, throws all aside . . . and promptly throws himself over a cliff.”
There’s a similar complexity in how Jude describes responding to those led astray by false teachers, whose behavior he describes starkly (1:12–13, 18–19). Yet when Jude turns to how to respond to such grave threats, he doesn’t suggest reacting with harsh anger.
Instead, he taught that believers should respond to threats by rooting themselves even more deeply in God’s love (vv. 20–21). For it’s only when we’re deeply anchored in God’s unchanging love that we can find the wisdom to help others with appropriate urgency, humility, and compassion (vv. 22–23)—the way most likely to help them find healing and rest in God’s boundless love.
In 2019, Cap Dashwood and his sweet black lab companion, Chaela (“la” Dashwood’s abbreviation for “Labrador angel”), accomplished something remarkable: reaching a mountain summit each day for 365 consecutive days.
Dashwood has a moving story to tell. He left home at sixteen, explaining simply, “Bad family life.” But these past wounds led him to find healing elsewhere. He explains, “Sometimes when you’re disappointed by people, you turn to something else. You know?” For Dashwood, mountain climbing and the unconditional love of his black lab companion has been a big part of that “something else.”
For those of us, like myself, who deeply love our animal companions, a big piece of why we do is the sweet, utterly unconditional love they pour out—a kind of love that’s rare. But I like to think the love they effortlessly give points to a much greater and deeper reality than the failures of others—God’s unshakeable, boundless love upholding the universe.
In Psalm 143, as in many of his prayers, it is only David’s faith in that unshakable, “unfailing love” (v. 12) that tethers him to hope in a time when he feels utterly alone. But a lifetime of walking with God gives him just enough strength to trust that the morning will “bring me word of your unfailing love” (v. 8).
Just enough hope to trust again and to let God lead the way to paths unknown (v. 8).
“Don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel was the law we lived by,” says Frederick Buechner in his powerful memoir Telling Secrets, “and woe to the one who broke it.” Buechner is describing his experience of what he calls the “unwritten law of families who for one reason or another have gone out of whack.” In his own family, that “law” meant Buechner was not allowed to talk about or grieve his father’s suicide, leaving him with no one he could trust with his pain.
Can you relate? Many of us in one way or another have learned to live with a warped version of love, one that demands dishonesty or silence about what’s harmed us. That kind of “love” relies on fear for control—and is a kind of slavery.
We can’t afford to forget just how different Jesus’ invitation to love is from the kind of conditional love we often experience—a kind of love we’re always afraid we could lose. As Paul explains, through Christ’s love, we can finally understand what it means to not live in fear (Romans 8:5) and start to understand the kind of glorious freedom (v. 21) that’s possible when we know we’re deeply, truly, and unconditionally loved. We’re free to talk, to trust, and to feel once more—to learn what it means to live unafraid.
The Dan Hotel in Jerusalem became known by a different name in 2020—“Hotel Corona.” The government dedicated the hotel to patients recovering from COVID-19, and the hotel became known as a rare site of joy and unity during a difficult time. Since the residents already had the virus, they were free to sing, dance, and laugh together. And they did! In a country where tensions between different political and religious groups runs high, the shared crisis created a space where people could learn to see each other as human beings first—and even become friends.
It’s natural, normal even, for us to be drawn toward those we see as similar to us, people we suspect share similar experiences and values to our own. But as the apostle Paul often emphasized, the gospel is a challenge to any barriers between human beings that we see as “normal” (2 Corinthians 5:15). Through the lens of the gospel, we see a bigger picture than our differences—a shared brokenness and a shared longing and need to experience healing in God’s love.
If we believe that “one died for all,” then we can also no longer be content with surface-level assumptions about others. Instead, “Christ’s love compels us” (v. 14) to share His love and mission with those God loves more than we can imagine—all of us.