It was at the end of a frazzled-to-the-bone day of parenting, when everything seemed to go wrong. I was rocking my rambunctious 16 month old Georgie, who was uncharacteristically exhausted (he had gotten all the goodie out of the day, and his dad), when he nuzzled in close, pointed to my eye, and said (in the worst English I’ve ever heard): “EYEEEE? UHV…. EWWWWW!!”
And suddenly the tension just drained out of me. I was “UHV”-ed.
For a few weeks we’d been working on “I love you.” I’d point to my eye and say, “I”, then to my heart and say “love”, and then to him and say “you.” He had never said it as clear as he did on that night. And I needed it. I needed to be told I was loved.
Sometimes dealing with this pandemic, and parenting, and work, and widespread social upheaval, not to mention politics, is terribly overwhelming work. It’s good in those times to be reminded that this IS a really hard time, totally unprecedented, and it’s okay to feel stressed, depressed, and distressed, and that, in the midst of all this, we are deeply loved and sustained by God.
Life is a school of love. You get a relatively brief span of years to figure it out: Learn to love God and love one another. Some people catch on pretty quick. For others, a lifetime isn’t enough.
My children have taught me how to love, about how you can love two different people with the same intensity, but with a different quality, each tailored to and fully accepting them in their quirks and eccentricities.
That, in turn, has taught me a lot about God. If, as Jesus said, God loves us like a parent, then indeed God loves us in our uniqueness, in our individuality, even in our failures. I’ve often looked at my children and thought, how is it possible to love so much? Can God really love me this much? Of course if God is infinite love, God loves me infinitely more than that. It’s too much love to process, but it’s worth spending your life trying to.
If life is a school of love, then 2020 is a hard, advanced lesson. And the final exam is this: in the midst of a pandemic, an utterly toxic political situation, 180,000 deaths and counting, widespread social upheaval, violent racism, and weaponized misinformation, CAN YOU STILL LOVE?
If I can, it’s by the grace of God and because of good teachers.
On June 1, I started working with our guests at Morning Glory Ministries, our outreach to people who are homeless and working poor in Kansas City. At first, I really struggled. I was afraid of being around people in general, of catching COVID, but I also felt pity, fear, and sorrow for our guests. It choked out any spark of love I could muster.
I never realized, before Georgie said his “I love you,” how much we need teachers in order to learn how to love. How God depends on us not just to love, but to teach others how to love.
I needed teachers, and I found them in the staff, in the volunteers, and in the guests. I couldn’t bring myself to self-generate love, but I was able to tap into their love. It was a good reminder of the virtues: act as if you are already loving, and you’ll be loving. Or, as John of the Cross used to say (and Dorothy Day loved to quote): “Where there is no love, put love, and you will find love.”
I think I am slowly learning: we are all God’s children, we are all God’s co-workers, undeniably interconnected, bound to each other. My good is your good, my evil is your evil. The moment I draw lines around God’s love for all people, I find myself outside of it.
I hope that when the dust settles on 2020, good things will emerge. That this crisis will be seen as an epochal change, a paradigm shift in the way we treat each other and the planet.
Until then, I am learning: how to have courage, how to act justly, how to have hope, how to keep the faith, and most importantly, how to “UHV.”