Shalom…the greatest love of all
Let me begin by saying this: one of the first rules of responsible blogging is that you never, ever write about other people and their private lives without their permission. I don’t know if the things that I am about to say are what my dear friends had in mind last night when they encouraged me to write about our joint experience. But what I am about to write is what truly remains with me from the hours we spent together.
Sadly, last night, I visited with a dear friend who was saying that most difficult goodbye to someone that she loved. It was the end of a long period of care taking and that most terrible experience of watching someone you love and respect changed by the progression of a terrible disease. We were at a funeral home for a viewing and a prayer service; in little more than an hour I will get back into the car and go to the funeral service. I didn’t know the departed soul, but I know well her lovely daughter — I know her and I value her as a true friend. And I love her even more after what I witnessed last night.
You know how it is with families…transitions of all kinds shine a light on the cracks in the system; such events often cause us to show our very worst nature as we wrestle with our discomfort. And it has been no different for this family. And this family’s relationship is complicated by the reality that each of the siblings seems to have, shall we say, a widely-varying relationship to faith and theology.
I knew when I left for the funeral home last night that I was going to what might be to me a very strange event theologically. I would be listening to a prayer service by someone whose theology I would most probably find offensive and ill-conceived. And this speaker (I cannot refer to him as a preacher or pastor because his grasp of Scripture belied his lack of education) did not disappoint: he used every “trick” in the book that has created such a negative stereotype of the word “Baptist”…he bullied, he frightened, he misquoted Scripture, he spent far more time talking about himself than he did trying to bring comfort to the assembled family and friends.
But last night, my friend, the friend that I went there to support, offered me a great gift. The simplest of gifts, but also the greatest. Some people would have stormed from the room, some would have been angry…I’ve seen more than a few family shouting matches in a situation like that. My friend and her partner simply apologized to their assembled friends, and then my friend spoke these words: “It is okay; my sister needed that. And now it is over.” And I know that she meant it, no matter what other emotions were present for her.
What an amazing gift of love. I know that my friend has made so many compromises over these past weeks, I know that she and her partner have had to make so many more through the events of this week. And yet I watched them offer a gift of grace and love to us all. I watched them model real love for each other, for the loved one whose life we were there to acknowledge, and for each of us there. Some of us knew it, others did not. I feel so grateful to have witnessed that moment.
I also know that today will in so many ways be no easier for these friends. They have made yet another compromise today and I will be there to lend to what little support I can in the face of that compromise. It will be another long day of goodbye and memory and hearing words spoken in comfort that quite possibly do not bring comfort.
But I want to say to you, dear friends, you already have the greatest comfort of all…you need no other words, because you know true love and you know the true meaning of Shalom. I saw it with my own two eyes and heard it with my heart last night.
The Lord be with you, just as He always is.