He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Living on the Mountain: Tough Love

When visiting the grave of my grandfather this past weekend, I remembered his funeral and how all those who came to mourn his passing or pay their respects were deeply impressed by his authentic love, a love that pervaded his life and brought even those who would not normally be inclined to spend any time near my family out to join us in laying him to rest on the mountainside.

Those of us who were his grandchildren were able to experience his love with only a little of his toughness to leaven it, but my mother and her siblings definitely knew that his love was a tough love along with the tough love of my grandmother.  He was not quick to punish when a rule was broken, but his punishment was firm when it occurred.  And his children knew that their punishments were not for his benefit, but for their benefit.  Those children would need to navigate a world of harsh and sometimes unpredictable consequences for their mistakes.  Those children would need to build good habits and avoid unhealthy habits to be successful in navigating that world day by day.  Setting the boundaries to teach them those good habits was tough on them, and yet it was the toughness of a love that would see them grow and fly free some day.

For all our contemporary Western world's insistence that love does not set up laws and punishments, my grandfather's example demonstrates amply that love does indeed require laws.  He was not a loving person because he had rejected laws or because he had risen above them.  He was a loving person because he had learned to keep the laws of the God he loved with all his strength.  Like the mountain's rough edges are smoothed down over time by the rushing river, his rough edges were worn down by obeying the law designed by a God of love to teach us to put love first and to push away the transient desires of the ego so that we can do so.

In the last decade I have learned the toughness of love for myself through poverty, career changes, romance, and friendship.  I have learned that a healthy life requires loving relationships, that loving relationships require a capacity to leave ego in the backseat rather than letting it do the driving, and that obedience to a law external to ourselves is how we learn to leave the ego in the backseat.  My rough edges have increasingly been worn down in the process of learning to move my ego out of the way so that loving relationships can grow.

My friends sometimes find it difficult to understand how I live by so many laws, but my reason for doing so is that it is the best way to develop the capacity for love.  And I truly want to love to the fullest, finding that love through the tough love which my grandfather passed down to me through my mother, a love my grandfather found as he fulfilled the law of God in his life.  May we all fulfill the law of God by letting it smooth down our rough edges so that we can enter fully into His loving embrace and embrace with that same love all those who are loved by God.

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