I am sitting with my Mom in the Poulsbohemian Coffeehouse where I work. We dropped in at 4 for a coffee date, and now the doors are locked for the night. In the evening as we spoke, my Mom’s phone vibrated. The text said that Megan Smith had been found after 12 days missing. She was dead.
I don’t know the Megan who died in her car. The Megan I know is a teenage girl who walked to our house to watch my brother and I when we were young. She had an infectious smile and a gentle spirit. She was the one who played with us - who protected us when our parents were gone. I only ever knew her as my babysitter. That Megan is gone now, and her death stings.
My mom and I sat in silence for a long time. The more I remembered, the more pain I felt rising in my chest. We waited in our little yellow coffee shop, riding the loss together. Quietly we shared it.
In those painful, sobering moments, I’ve realized lately how thankful I am for my mom. In my sadness she is not just a person, but a presence I hold to. I yearn for her safety - for her gentle attention, and the reliability of her comfort. As a kid, in my anger, I would lock myself alone in my room. In those moments, I only wanted one person to come to my rescue - she always came. Any closeness, any distance is safe because Mom is always ready to take me as I am. When I sit with her late into the night, talking from her bedroom floor, I know that I am welcome. When I want her to stay with me past closing, I am welcome. When she quietly takes my hand in hers and waits for me to speak, I am welcome.
When I think of the community of God, there are so many pictures: adoption, marriage, family, community, brothers and sisters - all of these are bonded by a powerful, Christ-like love. What does this kind of love require of me? And how would God position my heart to love in such a way?
Growing up, I was asked so often by my church to be vulnerable - to open up and be honest with the people in my Sunday pews. Find a small group, I was told. Share your testimony. Confess your sins. Openness is a necessary part of love - I get it - I just wonder if the intense vulnerability we often leap to is really the fast-track to Christian love?
In Hebrews, I’m reminded of a Great High Priest who sympathizes with our weaknesses (4:14). The church is invited to go boldly before the throne of God, because Jesus has walked their temptations, pains, hurts, and joys before them, without failing (4:15). When I’ve read these words in the past, I’ve always focused on “coming to the Throne, boldly” (4:16). Recently though, I’ve wondered if the true beauty of this verse isn’t in the utter reliability of the love that Jesus offers? He welcomes our burdens relentlessly, and He’s committed to bearing them for our good - no matter what the cost is to Himself.
The uniqueness of Christ's love is the safety He creates through a bridge of commitment, sympathy and empathy. There is no expectation from Jesus that I come to Him lightly - His promise is that He will walk with me through my pain as long as I need Him. Knowing the full extent of my need, He invites me in.
When I look at the example of Jesus - when I think of my responsibility as a Christian to “receive one another, just as Christ also received us” (Romans 15:1-7) - I wonder if I’m truly willing to help bear a person’s life that is not my own? Have I thought seriously, courageously even, about the true weight of the cross I’m asked to carry? In my honest introspection, am I willing to commit to my community and the pain I may be required to take on?
These questions remind me of someone I knew named Genia. He was just four years old, from Russia, when his adopted family invited him in with their two daughters. Genia was a difficult child, and as the pains of abandonment began to show through his timid persona, he became more difficult. His hurt was masked with bad behavior and it disrupted the house. He disrupted the family’s Saturday morning soccer games, and he disrupted their quiet Sunday mornings. Eventually Genia’s burden was more than they wanted to bear. After being placed where he was told he would find safety, Genia was displaced once more into foster care.
I am convinced that uncommitted love does more harm than good, and I say boldly, but unregrettably, that if you do not take that commitment seriously - don’t ask someone to be vulnerable. Community isn’t cheap. Do not ask someone to come boldly before you, to expose their deepest wounds to you, if you do not intend to be reliable. It’s for our edification that we bear with one another, not for good feelings, or tradition, or secrets, or social belonging.
Our church is a heavy church, and it deserves the highest level of responsibility. Are we willing? Are we willing to sit with those who mourn, and commit to walking beside them - no matter what that requires? Are we willing to treasure their stories, and love them as much as we love ourselves? Are we willing to push through our selfishness - to devote ourselves to something worth our very lives? At the very least, are we willing to learn?
That is the cost of vulnerability.
Change my heart, God. Give me the courage to welcome those you have placed before me. I invite their highs and lows; I invite their happiness; I invite their pain. Lord, hold me be accountable - help my community hold each other accountable to the burdens we must bear. Carry this load with us, Jesus. Help us treasure honesty, and hold us up when we fall short. Challenge us, Lord. Make us faithful.