Many years ago I heard the account of a woman who had had a near death experience. When she “returned” she said she’d been asked two important questions about mortality: “How well did you love?” and “What did you learn?”
When I have my tête-à-tête with Saint Peter at the pearly gates, I can well imagine him asking me these questions. I think they are essentially the follow-ups to the two challenges Christ gave us in Matthew 22:37-40:
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
What might it mean to “love well”? While “love” often brings to mind pastels, softness and durability (not unlike toilet paper commercials, come to think of it), love is also blood, guts, sweat, wrestling, weeping, commitment, hope, faith, forgiveness, mercy and a whole host of rigorous and messy qualities and disciplines.
We can easily share in love and joy at momentous occasions – the birth of a child, the marriage of friends, covenants made and celebrated.
Sometimes love requires more muscularity than that. How well do we love when a child is stillborn or brain damaged or incomprehensibly rebellious? How well do we love when the two friends who have just married are gay? How well do we love when the child “born in the covenant” decides against the path we imagined and embraces a different theology or lifestyle? How well do we love when saints in the kingdom criticize other saints – regardless of the issue or the “side”? This love stuff is not for the faint of heart.
I have learned in my own wrestlings with some of the wrenching challenges of life, that God wants me personally A: to recognize my own inability to fully understand other people’s journeys, B: to neither condemn nor condone them, leaving that to God and C: to love them. Still. And well.
Cue the music to “I’m Trying to be Like Jesus.”
Or, from another powerful song, here’s a poetic description by Michael Card of the high bar of love:
Love crucified, arose
And the grave became a place of hope
for the heart that sin and sorrow broke
is beating once again. (From “Love Crucified, Arose”)
When Saint Peter asks me what I’ve learned, I will have to admit that I’m physics phobic (so don’t put me on the “engineering new worlds” committee unless there’s an “arts and design” subgroup.) I generally run from political discussions. I don’t play the piano. Or the harp, for that matter.
But I have learned that relationships matter more than I can comprehend. I have learned that the adventure of “filling the measure of my creation” is a worthy, joyous, demanding and exhilarating lifetime exploration. I have learned that I feel most whole when I am creative, spiritual, loving and hanging on for dear (eternal) life to the grace and promise of my Savior’s atonement.
I have learned that God is generous with truth all over the world. I have, can and should search for and embrace it all as part of the Gospel. I have also learned that the “truest” experiences I have had affirm a unique authority in the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.
(You may wonder why I don’t just use the more succinct, traditional phrases to say all that. I have learned that pat phrases along these lines generally confuse me, so I feel most authentic coming up with my own words.)
I’m in no rush to parlez with Saint Peter, but I am grateful to spend a lifetime learning to love and loving to learn.
How does contemplating these two questions frame your take on mortality, love and learning?