Experience teaches us, sooner or later, that some things don’t make the leaps of logic that we would like. If, for example, we believe that God is eternal, and then that God is love, it doesn’t necessarily mean that “love is eternal”, does it? Anyone who has fallen into, and then out of love knows that. Ideally, marriages begin and continue in love. All too often, and all too tragically, something happens to that love and it ends, taking the marriage down with it. Also all too often and all too tragically, there are marriages that continue lovelessly.
Frederick Buechner is the author of many books, many of which are autobiographical reflections. In The Sacred Journey (1982) he mentioned an occasion of being a six-year-old wanting to show his grandmother how much he loved her. The gift that he unwisely chose received a response that hurt him. About 50 years later, reflecting on that incident in print, he wrote “The people you love have two sides to them. One is the side they love you back with and the other is side that, even when they do not mean to, they can sting you with like a wasp.”*
It’s that “even when they do not mean to…” part that is the hardest to take. When he was six years old, Buechner truly and with all his heart loved his grandmother. He also knew that his grandmother loved him. She said the words that hurt him, there’s no doubt about that. But those words’ meaning was not that love had ended or had never existed to start with. His grandma, like many of us, responded to a situation spontaneously, not choosing her words, but saying what came to mind at the moment.
When we’re stung by words from someone whom we assumed loved, or at least accepted, us, we need grace to see people whose love has at least two sides, one of which may be totally invisible to them. And when, in turn, we are informed that our own use of language has resulted in someone being hurt when we intended something entirely different, like being clever or witty or unwittingly prideful, we need humility to lovingly apologize for carelessness or clumsiness of speech. We should not defend the indefensible, but lovingly admit that we need forgiveness and another (or several more) chances to love without the wasp sting.
*Frederick Buechner, The Sacred Journey, (1982) p. 32.
David Alexander resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan