We don’t need a day in February to show our love.
Over the holiday break, I had the pleasure of reading for leisure C.S. Lewis’s book, The Great Divorce. As a graduate student, I don’t often get the chance to read for fun and I have been wanting to read this book for years. Yet, there was “something” in this book that I’ve also been avoiding, and here is what I found – it was the truth about love.
The Great Divorce is a story about people who are on a bus bound for heaven from the depths of hell. Once they reach heaven, they are presented with a choice: Stay in heaven or go back. Of course, we all think, “Who would ever choose hell in midst of heaven?” but don’t be so quick to judge; the choice is actually tricky.
The narrator takes us on a journey through heaven with him. Together, we watch as each passenger is met by a heavenly envoy whose sole job is to convince the passenger to choose heaven, life, and true love. The messenger could be a former friend, spouse, or enemy on earth. It is always someone who had influence in the earthly life of the one deciding – influence that was either bad or good. Lewis’ story is haunting as you watch each passenger justify selfishness and refuse the greatest love. The bus passengers reason themselves out of heaven for their love of earthly idols: ideas, possessions, people, and pride.
Two stories struck me from this short book – the stories of two women. The first story is about a mother refusing to let go of her favorite son who had died young. The second story is of a wife, a heavenly envoy, pleading with her husband to make the choice for heaven by unshackling himself from his bitterness.
In the first woman’s story, the mother cannot let go of her son; she would rather keep her love for him than accept the love of the One who could take away that ache. The envoy sent to her was her brother, who pleads with her to let it go and let True Love in, the Love of God, the three-in-one. If she would choose heaven, she could see her son again. At this thought the woman perks up and considers the idea, but offers an ultimatum: only if she can have all of her son’s love and time on her own terms. “No” is her brother’s reply. “Her son is now in love with the Only Love he will ever need.” Hearing this, the woman becomes defiant. . . distant.
The narrator walks us away from this heartbreaking scene insinuating her choice. She won’t choose heaven because to do so would mean laying down the love of her son for a rival Love that can fulfill him much more. She would have to love him in a different way and that was not okay with her. Her heavenly messenger simply tells her this: “Love, as mortals understand the word, isn’t enough. Every natural love will rise again and live forever in this country: but none will rise again until it has been buried.”
Are you this person? Holding on to a cheap version of love because, at the very least, it’s your version (your idol) and no other? I confess, I am that woman. I want love on my terms from whom I want it, when I want it, and how I want it. But this is not God’s way. The second woman in the book shows us a more accurate picture of His way of love.
Two chapters were devoted to what I call “The Love-Filled Lady.” Lewis spends several paragraphs describing the entourage of this woman: children dancing, musicians playing, people laughing, all in a long processional marching before this woman. She had a fanfare of praise preceding her. Why?
This woman was great in heaven for the love she showed on earth. Every person this Love-filled Lady met on earth was said to have instantly become her child or lover, not in a defiled way, but in a way that called them to be more pure towards those around them. Oh, this lady loved righteously, my friends.
Yet her husband hated her for it. As she comes to him to convince him of heaven, he cannot accept it. He is chained to his own self-loathing and pity, bitter because this Love-filled Lady never loved him on earth to his liking. He wanted her to need him in heaven as she never did on earth, and she confessed she never could again need him now that she is in True Love. She tells him plainly, “What we called love down there was mostly the craving to be loved.” But now she had it all: she was full, not empty. She was in Love Himself. “Come and see,” she pleads with her husband. But again, this bus passenger will have none of it. This place of heaven has nothing he wants.
C.S. Lewis confesses in his preface that the story is only intended to provoke the reader’s thoughts. Lewis has the ability to give our natural, temporal eyes a glimpse of what we should be seeing and believing about spiritual reality all along, knowing that the unseen is the ultimate reality and truth. I agree with him: as mortals, we hardly understand what the all-consuming love of God is and how He wields that love in this world.
As I devote my life and career to the study of God’s Word, the more I am convinced our definitions of love are distorted compared to His. And of course they are! We are fallen. I struggle to love and be loved well.
Perhaps, I write this for myself more than I write for you. I can hardly let my friends love me. Even when the friend I most cherish stares me in the face and calls me arrogant and presumptuous for not accepting his righteous love of me, I balk and scream at him, in selfish pride and vanity. I am insulted and proud; not humbled and accepting. His love isn’t on my terms; I claim to know best. I am the first woman instead of the second – thinking I know what love is and how to love. I pretend I alone possess the monopoly on love; I alone decide if I am lovable or not. Cherished friend, if you are reading this, I am sorry and thank you for calling me out on my pride. You have changed my life forever and in your pushing back, you are a heavenly envoy to me and I choose heaven.
I don’t know what love is, but I am beginning to understand that righteous love is truth stated plain, even when it hurts. Love wants God’s best for the other person, recognizing that only God IS the best for each person. I need people to show me truth – as heavenly envoys – to move me closer into the white, hot flame of God’s love. Would you allow someone to show truth to you? Do you show truth to others? Or does your selfish love get in the way?
I know my article is long, but listen: We don’t need a day in February to celebrate love. As believers, we should be emanating love every day. It’s a spiritual duty, a fruit of the Spirit growing within us and ought to be radiating from us. It’s part of our spiritual act of worship of the One who performed the ultimate act of love – self-sacrifice. By sacrificing Himself, He purchased us. We’re free to live like “The Love-Filled Lady.” When Lewis described her, I wept. A craving, a yearning, a throbbing so deep in my heart, which had been squashed down was suddenly resurrected. I wanted to be her…and then God whispered: “You can be her. Daughter, you already are.”
May His righteous love ooze from you.
–Hannah Marie Adams is Spiritual Formation M. Div at Multnomah University.