Like, Love, Hope, and the Afterlife

Joe Clark ~~ Jun 2, 2003

I have had a number of things on my mind lately. So now it's time to spew 'em all out. Here goes. We'll see what order emerges, and how they will all be so skillfully woven together..hopefully.

First of all, a few weeks ago mention was made to me about my little jaunts into expectations and love and sappy romanticness and all that stuff. Specifically, those thoughts were placed in the category of "like" and not "love." That took me back a bit, since I have often contemplated these two "wonderful" words and concepts. At first, I thought to myself, "How can you judge for me what is like and what is love?" But, since they have more experience (whatever that is) than I do, it's also easy to say that they probably know what they're talking about.

Lately I've been thinking about it off and on though. At times I think that like and love are really intertwined. It seems as though love without like is just responsibility and is downright boring. If like is what gives us emotions and "happiness", then what is love? The thing that gives us numbness and dreariness and hard sacrifice? I mean, pardon me but I like my emotions ("like"...maybe my emotions like my emotions...). To me, life is some sort of precarious balance, in this case a balance between reasonable and logical loving decision-making and crazy silly like feelings. I'm not so sure that it's entirely accurate to say, "Love is a choice" and "like is a feeling" with the implicit warning, "embrace [boring] love and banish [exciting] like." Basically, I want both. I want to have the emotion, but temper it with the realism that the commitments bring.

Now, on the other hand, I also got to thinking about that lovely love chapter, I Corinthians 13. What does *God* say that love is? Let's list the attributes:

patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not proud, not rude, not self-seeking, not easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs, does not delight in evil, rejoices with the truth, protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres.

Okay, so that's my standard. Now, let's contemplate, with as much honesty as I can muster, how do my times of "like", or I-can't-believe-it's-not-love measure up to that? Just in general...

Okay, that was long. And that's not even where I'm heading. That was just a long detour. After thinking about those sorts of principles, I realized that quite possibly my friends are right, and like and love are not only separate, in some ways like and love might be opposites. I want to not believe that, but the evidence is there in some sense. There is the intense feeling of happiness and such, but there are also the intensely WRONG feelings of self-seeking, misplaced hope, etc etc.

Now, I think I've presented both sides of the issue, let me whine just a bit. Why is life the way it is? :-) Why does love sound so boring, so filled with duty and responsibility, and why is like so evil, and why does like lead to nothing but selfishness? Grr. And, typical of me, why do I tend to judge these topics from afar anyway? I mean, there is an ebb and flow to my wishes and hopes and generic desires, but in general I do consider myself lonely for...something, not even specifically a person, maybe it is all just longing to "be with Jesus", and if so, then, go me for being godly. But, bad me, Jesus has not yet appeared in the car seat next to me while praying, so I guess I hope for some of the next best things...relationships with people. But they are often difficult, fraught (is that a word?) with questions and effort and balancing friendship and like and love, and sometimes in the balance the joy of the *ship (whatever kind of ship it is, whether friendship or relationship or nothingship) is dulled, and sometimes by being proper I think we never really get to know each other. But, on the other hand, I have learned that over time strong friendships do develop, even out of the ordinariness.

Now let me switch gears from my normal whining. You wouldn't know it by reading my "find a wife" sorts of thoughts, but there is obviously more to love and life than that. Another aspect that I have thought about some lately is the aspect of caring for aging parents. I see this sorta similarly to caring for children, but it's not really all that similar. Kids are small and easy to handle...older folks are not. Kids cry and want their own way, but it's pretty easy not to let them have it. Older folks are often quite set in their ways as well, but since they are our elders we have to think twice about going against their wishes. The other, more philosophical difference, is that we know that children are just beginning the circle of life, just embarking on their journey, while we know deep down that older folks are nearing the end of the journey, where they will meet up once again with the beginning of that circle. This is hard to accept, and really makes us contemplate the...beyondness of life, which is a good thing in a way. But the beyondness is some autumnish mixture of gold and brown, of joy mixed with grief, of pain mixed with anticipation. The responsibilities that come with being this kind of caregiver are perhaps one of the most frequent signs of love. The pastor opened his sermon on Sunday by reminding us that love demands sacrifices. Another hard saying, another chance to have me think, "Can I for once just enjoy like-love without a reminder of the grim responsibilities that it always apparently brings?" Anyway, people who are in the position of caring for aging friends or loved ones are in a very honorable place I think. It takes a lot of effort, both mentally and physically, to do what has to be done. Sometimes it's just simply a messy, mind-numbing job. This honestly scares me a bit, because I have a feeling that someday I'll be in that care-giving position, and because of that I need to do at least a little mental preparation for it. In a more "beyond" sense, it also reminds me that one day farther along I too may well be in the position of care-receiver. I think I've always considered loss of my mental function as the highest of all blows, since I basically am what I think. I have learned as time has gone on that I am actually fairly independent. I love to be with people, and to share my life with them. But I also love time to do my own thing and think my own thoughts and just (sadly) waste time. I strive for a balance in this as well. But in the position either as caregiver or carereceiver, that independence is lost in different ways, and I would do well to consider that and work a little at not being so "stuck in the mud" independent.

Now, following my stream of thought, I've also thought some lately about hope and how it makes itself known to us. I guess I haven't thought as deeply about this, but somehow in the midst of trying times healthwise or financialwise or friendwise or Godwise or anywise, I find that I (and I think anyone) relies on hope to pull them through. As M. Card says, "Hope is an echo in the air all around us; it is the sound of heaven's symphony." I can think back to times in my life where things were bleak in one way or another, and it was the hope reflex I can remember most clearly. In physical pain I would look for any tiny sign that normal health may be returning. In friend/like/love issues I would agonize over things and repeat conversations to myself trying to grasp some sense of hope about the situation. In a God sense I will mull over things a lot to try and find God in the midst of the everydayness of life. All of these practices are the outcome and outcry of hope. Going back to the older-folks issues, hope again comes to play in the face of getting older, having health problems, and not really knowing what the days ahead may hold. Sure, anyone of us could be dead in 5 seconds, but we really don't believe it. We are massively desensitized to changes in our condition by the past. When we have been outliving the 5 second increments for 10, 20, 30, 50 years...we expect that we will outlive nearly that number all over again. I have thought for a long time that I will really know I'm getting old when my thoughts, my life, and my body stop returning to status quo. See, I realize that change is inevitable, but in my invincibility I have seen that changes come and go, but I remain grounded and there are certain things I have come to rely on -- my health, my family, my closest friends, and perhaps even just the little things like the town I live in. The truth is, though, that sooner or later my family will change, my closest friends may move away, my health may not be what it is now, and the town I live in may change in any number of drastic ways. These changes, when they happen or threaten, are what finally kicks me out of autopilot invincible mode and makes me realize that life is not just a game, and life is not just day after day and week after week of cyclical living in a constant state of half-deja-vu, living out the same basic patterns over and over again. Whether the patterns are the greatest or the worst, they will not last forever. Change is all around us, from every decision we make to the slow crumbling of the mountains into the sea, from the first step we take to the last. This line of thought is another element of the "beyondness" that is our life, another tenet that I the beautification engineer would do well to seek to understand. For true beauty cannot be had without some understanding of these larger-than-myself principles, these things that are so hard to grasp, these thoughts that make me think outside of my small plans and my small life and embrace the ideas of history, legacy and eternity.

Wow. Finally we get to my final topic. Are you enjoying the rapids of the stream? Well, thinking about aging issues and like and love...all of these somehow lead me to the eternal, "beyond this life" thoughts. For like, I ask myself, "Will this like last forever. Is this the way it will be?" But I am reminded in one way or another that like is temporary. Try as I might to sustain it, for weeks in my case or for years in others' cases, like is simply a transient. The real question is, is love a transient? Is love forever? How can we wrap our minds around that question? We know that God's love is forever, etc. But say, for a couple who may be going through empty nest syndrome -- can we give them the assurance that their love is forever? How about for the couple sharing a room in the nursing home? How about the new parents with the 3-week old newborn? How about to the single bachelor guy who writes so-called wise sayings on his computer? (Hey who could that be referring to?) How can we come to know that the hope we all need, the hope in love in some sense, will last forever. I feel that I cannot explain this adequately, probably because no one can even understand the connections between like/love hope and eternity, let alone explain them. But I think that we all know that there is some strange ethereal connection. It reminds me of Morpheous first speaking to Neo about the Matrix...something about "You cannot explain it, but you know it is there...you can feel it...." Our world is a Matrix, if you will, and perhaps just beyond the level of understanding we have is the "real world" where the true life is to be had, the life with God and a true understanding of such things as love and hope and life eternal. I for one strive for that understanding, although not always as wholeheartedly as I should. I strive for the perspective to see that this Matrix of a life is just the beginning, just the first dimension of something more vast and more grand than I can even fathom.

What disturbs me about this topic is that eternity is weird. I may have said this in previous writings, but I think that living forever is just about as weird and mind-blowing as not living forever. I am *SO MUCH* a product of human life and a human brain that I cannot even begin to think about what everlasting life is. If there is anything that can seem to drive me crazy, not just headache crazy but just crazy crazy, it is trying to understand eternity. I read Ecclesiastes, and it seems as though Solomon has given up on understanding the eternal and settled for describing the mundane life on earth. I wonder if he suffered from eternity burnout? Perhaps he too was driven crazy trying to understand the un-understandable? Well, I hope to never discount the eternal, but I also realize, at least for now, that I simply cannot understand it, at least not without God's help, and so I strive to understand a little more, to get a little better understanding of it, and I, naive as I may be, seek to understand the eternal by observing bits and pieces of the people and things and events around me. That is the like, and the love, and the hope. I like to think that they are all part of the eternal plan God is working out. Wow. That sounds cliche, but I really want to expand my mind so it is not...so I am not simply restating words, but instead expanding my mind to encompass just a little more of the great vastness of truth that God must have in his eternalness.

Okay, so how was this for a long winding road of a wise thought? Fun, huh? If you are still with me, congratulations. Now is your chance to get out there and live your life, mingling your like and love and hope with your eternal calling. Go, read your Bible, find God, and share with those around you the insights you come to realize. Live your life beyond the half-deja-vu and the cliche. Be careful to be grounded -- I'm not calling for weirdness and foolish ideas, but I am calling for, well, wise thinking. "Dream your dreams with God as King." I hope to encourage careful understanding, the kind of deepness that can actually make us sit upright and say, "Oh my goodness!" when we come to realize some new truth or see something normal as if for the first time in a new light.

Okay, enough lines of cuteness. Go your way, and happy contemplations. God bless you.