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

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Love in a Perfect World

I asked myself a question this morning: "What would love be like in a perfect world?"

The world I longed for constantly at 16 years of age, and occasionally even at 32 years of age, is a world that was perfect for me.  I wanted a world that would shape itself to my desires and my convenience, a world not merely free of physical suffering and mental anguish because of severe trauma, but also a world free of any minor frustrations.

In this world, rain would fall when I wanted it to, stop when I wanted to, and stay on the ground only as long as I wanted it to.  The sun would shine when and where I wanted, not causing glare while I was driving, and streaming clouds would block the sun at the just the right times to keep me from getting sunburn.

In this perfect world, I would never stub my toes, or lose a life in a video game, or fall down while running on the soccer field.  I would never have a church experience that was less than profound, or fellow churchgoers who coughed during the service, or people at church who weren't friendly to me.

I would never have any fights with my family in this perfect world, because they would always consider my needs (implicitly I believed that my needs should be considered first).  I would never have any internal turmoil, or grief, or a broken heart, or unrequited love in this perfect world.

And if other people could have a perfect world too, that would also be very nice.  I wasn't completely self-centered, after all.  I wanted nice things for others, provided that didn't cost me very much.  This is a world I kept longing for until my early twenties, and because there was such a mismatch between the perfect world I longed for and the world I lived in, I was angry and depressed much of the time when things didn't go perfectly.

But I kept trying to make this life more closely match the perfect world I longed for without understanding why I longed for it, and in some areas of my life, I succeeded.  This, paradoxically, did not make my life better.  All that happened was that I grew less able to deal with small sufferings when they arose, and more angry about those small sufferings, which deepened my depression that was fueled by the futility of my quest to make the world convenient for me.

The love I had in this perfect world (I recognize now) was a small, shriveled love.  It was a love that wasn't willing to risk much for the good of others, a love not worth giving to anyone whose value as a person I actually understood.  It was a love that I am sorry to say was far less that I ought to have given to all my friends, my family, and the least brothers and sisters of Love Himself.

It turns out that love in a perfect world, a world of immediate pleasure to satisfy our transient desires, decreases in strength because it is rarely exercised except by the bonds of family and friends, and even then can become progressively more shallow and superficial when we don't have to sacrifice much to keep them.  In a perfect world, love can so easily be taken for granted.

It turns out that in this imperfect world, once I began to embrace its imperfections and learn to deepen my love in suffering the slings and arrows of only mildly outrageous fortune, everything can help me to grow in love.  Each moment in which I must set aside my transient desires and help someone who is struggling or wish good upon those who are suffering is a moment in which I become less imperfect.

And I am profoundly imperfect; my love is still not willing to risk as much as it ought, a love that is of less value than the richness of love given to me, a love that has less strength than what I would like to have to give to all the people I encounter who need lifted up.

This good but imperfect world, by its imperfections, helps me to reform my heart so that it is full of a bolder love, a more compassionate love, a more perfect love.  This world in which the rain falls upon the just and unjust alike, with its inconveniences and pains and frustrations, shapes my desires so that I desire temporary pleasures less and less, while desiring to help others in a spirit of love more and more.

Love in a perfect world such as I had once longed for is deformed and sickly; love in an imperfect world can be gradually perfected.  I no longer wish for a perfect world that would suit my self-centered desires.  I embrace the imperfect world that contradicts my self-centered desires, forcing me to choose to cling to them all the harder or abandon my selfish desires altogether.

I now wish for a perfect love, the will to take up my cross daily and lay every aspect of my selfishness down, accomplishing the death of my ego for the good of many.


  1. Beautifully put, Sam. I remember a Twilight Zone episode in which an evil gang member died and went to what he thought was heaven. Everything went right for him, all the time: He won every toss at the craps table, women flocked to his side as if they had no choice to do otherwise, and he could steal anything he wanted to from a store without any risk at all of getting caught. He quickly became bored with this existence, and in despair he asked the angel who was with him, "So, this is heaven?" The angel looked at him and replied, "I never told you that this was heaven." What I took away from this tale was that the difficulties, inconveniences, and crosses we face in life are actually a wonderful potential source of grace...however, when those difficulties are all taken away from us, there is no more potential for growth. Once that happens, those who have no connection to God simply wallow in their own imperfections and selfishness...this itself is a kind of precursor to Hell. It's why I would rather see my loved ones suffer and be united with God than to be "happy" in doing evil and living apart from him. Actually, I would prefer that they not have to suffer anything too great and still attain to God, but He (not I) is ultimately the One who decides which crosses to give His people. At the end of our journey, once we have been perfected in Christ, we will no longer need to suffer anymore because we will have reached that union with God which forever ends the need for the kind of striving we have to do while we are still imperfect. I, for one, am glad that God did not give me most of the things that I wanted while I was in my early twenties, for it is now the very lack of those things which enables me to serve my friends and families in a unique way that I could not have otherwise done.