There are people walking around in the world with holes in their hearts. Some have visible, ragged, gaping pits ravaged by a pain that detonated in their lives like an explosion. Some are experts at hiding the holes. It may have been death, divorce, neglect, or abandonment. Perhaps the cause is less measurable, such as silence, distance, derision, or betrayal, but the resulting phantom ache left by the loss is no less severe. It may be it’s been such a long time since the hole was created that many think it’s less devastating now, or that it’s better left unexplored.
James tells us it is the essence of Christian love to care for the orphans and the widows, the poor in spirit and the impoverished in heart, the sick in soul, and the discouraged (1:27). This is an all-year exhortation, and yet, it’s not difficult to see how now, during the season of warm fuzzy Christmas commercials and reminders of what used to be, when there are not the same number of gifts under the tree, or when the traditional experiences are missing a participant, that the orphans and widows among us need care. Now is when the ache is most pronounced, when the holes seem to echo.
You might say it’s a holey season for them, during these weeks, when Christmas memories are triggered by smells and sights and sounds at every corner, when every occasion seems to highlight the invitations not sent, never received because mail doesn’t get delivered into the next life.
We’ve all been subject to this in some way as a result of these ongoing months of pandemic upheaval. Like everyone else, I’m restricted in one way or another in the traditional methods of servant-love to others. How do we overcome this barrier of mandated social distancing? First, we ought to examine the manner of love.
“To love then for a believer is natural, or maybe I ought to say supernaturally natural,” said John MacArthur in a sermon on this passage. “It is natural to our new state. In fact, John says if we don’t love one another we are not the children of God.”
In fact, the apostle John writes that no matter how much or loudly or convincingly we declare that we are in fellowship with God, we are deceiving ourselves if we don’t walk according to his light by loving the brethren. It is the very essence of conduct for a believer, and, says John, the love of God is perfected in us when we abide in his truth. Love is the prooftext of a heart surrendered to the mercy and glory of redemption; it is the summary of the Old and New Testament and it is purely reflected in Jesus.
Purity? Perfection? Have we looked in the mirror lately?
He is our advocate, so his is the face in the mirror. It is possible because he stands in our place before God, he prays for us to love purely as he does, and he provides his Spirit to make us more like him. He has bought us for this purpose, so that his prayers are heard, and so that his Father might receive more glory.
Several years ago, during another round of bitterly cold days, I attended a funeral for a man I’d never met. The deceased was the husband of someone I am acquainted with. His children are generally the same ages as my younger three, and they know one another, though they are really just acquaintances as well.
During the service, which was for a man whose adult life had been broadly and deeply touched by the community of Christ—including his wife and children—and yet who had never professed any faith in the Savior, much was said about the gift of his life to those who knew him. The pastors who spoke—the pastor of the church he and his family attended, and his brother-in-law—never compromised the Scriptures by positing that a good man could go to heaven based on his goodness. But this man clearly was a good man in the kindest way that common grace can allow. He evidently was a selfless man, who listened to others, who devoted his life to his family, who was a man of integrity and a hard worker.
These virtues were gifts to the souls left behind, it was said, the ones who were just beginning to pick up the pieces, just learning how to live without him, because in the gapingness and the vastness and the emptiness of his absence, what is remembered about his full and loving life is as big as Texas, as bright as an explosion, as poignant as a heartbeat. His brother-in-law added, “I can’t imagine life without him being a part of it.”
This broken confession jostled me as I sat there in the crowded church, in the midst of the emotions of friends and family, co-workers and acquaintances.
Whom would I feel this way about if I were to lose them suddenly, as my friend had lost her husband and this pastor had lost his brother-in-law?
And in whose life would my exit cause a whirlwind of confusion? Who would say that my death makes them feel unimaginably lost? Am I that big an entity? Or am I a big empty? Do others devote space in their hearts to me? Would anyone suffer from holeyness at my departure?
I fear I am too small in my heart to fill another’s. There is a Grinch-like meanness and leanness in these chambers—that “narrow, suspicious, censorious, and selfish spirit” that John Newton refers to, not love or selflessness or consideration or any of those things that made people say those wonderful things about the deceased at that funeral. I am pathetic in my love of others.
“It is well that we are not under the law, but under grace; for on whatever point we try ourselves by the standard of the sanctuary, we shall find reason to say, ‘Enter not into judgment with your servant, O Lord.’ There is an amazing and humbling difference between the conviction we have of the beauty and excellence of Divine truths, and our actual experience of their power ruling in our hearts. In our happiest hours, when we are most affected with the love of Jesus, we feel our love fervent towards his people. We wish it were always so; but we are poor inconsistent creatures, and find we can do nothing as we ought, but only as we are enabled by his grace.”
How huge is the chasm between the love poured out on me by the Savior and what I show others! Yet, says the apostle Peter, it is possible for me to be a conduit of Christ’s love.
Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God. (1 Peter 1:22-23)
In our natural, unregenerate condition, we are stone cold and unresponsive and untouched by this divine provocation to love. It may be that we have a love for others that feeds the self or is a convenience. And yet even as a believer, I find myself hampered by guilt or twisted by comparison and competition or prone to manipulation and self-kingdom-building. As Newton says, my love may lack in warmth or fervor at times, but it is there by divine infusion through the new birth.
The living and abiding word of God reveals the richness and impartiality and eternity-focused of Jesus’s love for others while here on earth.
He loved his friends like Mary, Martha, and Lazarus (John 11:5, 33, 35-36).
He loved lost souls like the rich young ruler (Mark 10:21).
He loved the disciples close to him (John 13:1).
He loved his mother (John 19:26-27).
He loved Jerusalem, despite her hostility to him (Luke 19:41).
And he loved those who executed him (Luke 23:34).
Certainly you can think of someone in your life who falls into a similar category as one or more on this list. The power and unity and purity of Jesus’s love is accessible in action by those who walk in his light, who abide in his truth, who have fellowship with him. Now, consider how many of those you’ve thought of are walking around with holes in their hearts. I’ll let you in on a secret, but I bet you already know what I’m going to say:
All of them.
Days tick by, hours upon hours pile up when we don’t see one another because of shutdowns and quarantines and social distancing. It’s easy for the out of sight to slip into the out of mind. How can we love one another in this season of holeyness?
Pick a person from your list. What holes can you think of that they might have that make some days unbearable? How deeply do they groan and why? What guilts or grievances or insufficiencies or disappointments bore into their souls, perhaps creating a gulf between them and you, or them and Christ? Or maybe that gulf has never been bridged by the great Healer and Reconciler? What can you say to alleviate that ache? What service can you perform to show that you know One who broke through the heavens to end hundreds of years of silence and fulfill every promise for rescue and delivery, to fill the holes, and to keep them filled with his everlasting and ever-abiding love? Just this week, all it took was a word and a hug from a sister in Christ who knew I was hurting and a gut-punch-sized hole got filled up. It’s remarkable, this supernatural natural love.
In whatever ways the Lord sets it before us, may we show supernatural love to those who need it to fill their holes this season.
Main photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash