In reflecting on many of my conversations, prayers, and sermons, I realize that I spend a lot of time on God’s love and our call to love others. I believe that love is the primary characteristic of God from which so many of our blessings come. I believe that scripture clearly calls us to love God, our fellow humans, and all of creation. I believe love is not just empty words, but actions, thoughts, and beliefs lived out.
However, as much as I love love, there is one part of it I am less than crazy about, and that is grief. It is because we love that we must grieve. Where there is no love, there is no grief. Living without true and deep love would save us so much pain in our lives. Yet would any of us give up love to avoid the pain of grief?
I am an animal lover. I am a dog love in particular. In October 2007, I fell in love with a dog from an online picture and went to the pound to get her. From that moment on it has been Izzy and me. For over nine years, we have been together. We have been together in the good times and the bad. We have moved 5 times together and traveled to over 20 states. We have had our share of laughter and tears. We have grown older together. Our relationship is one that is built on deep, unconditional love and it has become a rock in my life.
Three weeks ago, Izzy was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive cancer. She is dying and there is not a thing I can do to stop it. And it is tearing my heart up. The grief that is already setting in is overwhelming at times. It stops me in my tracks every time I think about what we won’t do again or the times she won’t be there.
In many ways this time would be easier if I did not love Izzy. If she was simply a dog, then I would acknowledge a little sadness perhaps but then be on my way. It is because of my love of her, that this grief is so heavy. When we open ourselves up to love, we are also opening ourselves up to grief. We are willingly letting pain and heart ache into our lives.
While perhaps I do not love grief, I know that this also is of God. God made us to love and God made us to grieve. Jesus grieved while on earth and yet sometimes we feel like we need to hide our grief from God and others. We see in scripture and in our own life experiences that God does not turn from us as we grieve but rather joins with us. We can celebrate a life well lived and still earnestly grieve because that is the complicated but beautiful nature of love.
I am already grieving Izzy even while we live out our last few weeks or maybe months together. And it hurts. Yet, I would not give up one minute of this grief. To be without this grief, I would have had to miss all that love that we have shared.
Grieving is painful. Grieving is heavy. Grieving can be a long hard journey. Nothing can change that, but it is the love that makes us grieve that also makes us strong enough to survive that grief. We are made stronger, more whole, and better because we love and because we grieve.
It is truly an honor to be able love. When we love we are living into our identity as those made in the image of God. It is also an honor to be able grieve. As hard as it is, as painful as it is grief is also part of what it means to be made in the image of God.
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