Have you ever stood over the crib and watched your young child sleeping and felt overwhelming love wash over you, only to be replaced by the gripping fear, “What if something happens to him/her?” And that thought steals your happiness and peace in a moment that might otherwise be one of unadulterated joy.
Brené Brown used this example in a talk once and someone in the audience shouted out, “Oh why do we do that?” I could answer her. I’ve seen that “What if?” played out in the real world. It was over half my life ago but hearing my mother’s sobs as they carried my little brother’s lifeless and cancer-ridden body from his earthly home on a cold October morning is still a poignant memory. I still remember seeing my father cry for only the second time in my life.
My little brother, Errol, was a blonde-haired, blue-eyed rascal. He was good-natured and fun, and he loved life. He loved riding horses and working cattle, skiing, and sports. He had a great sense of humor and loved to laugh. Most significant to me, he loved and looked up to me. He was nine years younger than me and wanted to tag along in everything I did. He was beautiful.
Errol started having serious health problems at age 14. Doctors, doing the best they could, misdiagnosed a highly malignant brain tumor as stomach problems—until he started seeing a black spot before his eyes. He lived three more years—mostly in extreme pain. In the end, as a 17-year-old boy, he made the decision to stop treatments after it became clear that they would only prolong his suffering and not give him much more life. What a hellacious decision for a child to make. If he was still on this earth, Errol would have turned 45 years old last month.
The fear that something like this might happen to a child we love is why we stand over a crib worrying and feeling pain instead of just feeling that overpowering love.
Our brains are over two million years old, and they are wired for survival. They also wire us to protect the survival of our children and the perpetuation of our families. So, we worry about a lot of things we have no control over. Our fear response is overgeneralized to ensure that we remain vigilant about the things we can control to preserve and protect our children.
Every mid-single I know has felt deep pain, accompanied by a deep disappointment at how their lives have “turned out.” As painful as my brother’s death was for me, my divorce from my kids’ mom was harder. It was actually a lot harder. I missed Errol and I still miss him. But he didn’t leave voluntarily. There was no personal rejection in it.
The losses so many of you have suffered were accompanied by the greatest pain you will ever feel. It is important to acknowledge the pain we feel and truly process it to move on.
President Nelson has said that “the only way to take sorrow out of death is to take love out of life.” I would add that the only way to take sorrow out of divorce is to take love out of marriage. Admit it to yourself. You loved your former spouse deeply. You thought he or she loved you too. You kept hoping things would change and, time after time, you were disappointed until all hope was gone. Whatever you think of your former spouse now, you loved him or her. That’s why it hurts so much.
If you haven’t been able to stop talking negatively about your former spouse, you have not fully grieved. Admit to yourself and a trusted circle of friends how much you loved your former spouse and how bitter your disappointment was that the dreams you had for that marriage were lost. Cry about it and ask God “why?”
So, what about this problem of allowing our worry about the possibility of loss to destroy our happiness with the blessings we have and might have in the future? If we had known that my little brother was going to suffer and die of cancer, we likely could have protected ourselves emotionally. We probably would have—and deprived ourselves of the years of joy he gave us. We would have avoided getting close to him, knowing that he would be taken from us someday—and fearing the pain. And that is exactly why God doesn’t let us know the end from the beginning. We aren’t supposed to know. In many cases, knowing would steal our joy. It would force us to play it safe and not get involved with people.
For whatever reason, our godlike nature demands that love come with the risk of pain and loss. There is something heroic in us all that understands that love cannot be real unless it has a price, and we are risking pain for it. This is taught no better anywhere than in the simple scriptural phrase, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son” (John 3:16).
I understand that risking your heart can seem foolish when it has been so filled with pain in the past. Why would I climb out on that limb again? We do it because the alternative is cold and bitter. It is refusing to gain anything good for fear of losing it. As the great Christian writer C.S. Lewis wrote in his book, The Four Loves:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.
Yes, to love is to be vulnerable. To gain love for eternity, we must take the risks of pain in this life to fully understand its value. When you decide to have a child or get married or even ask for a date, you are risking rejection, emotional pain, and loss. In eternity, we will feel the permanence of love in a way that we cannot feel in this life. That eternal perspective can help us to heal and remain hopeful about our happiness, even amid tears. As John the beloved wrote:
“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4.)
About the Author
Jeff Teichert and his wife Cathy Butler Teichert are the founders of “Love in Later Years,” which ministers to Latter-day Saint mid-singles seeking peace, healing, and more joyful relationships; and the authors of the book Intentional Courtship: A Mid-Singles Guide to Peace, Progress and Pairing Up in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Jeff and Cathy each spent nearly a decade in the mid-singles community and draw on this experience to provide counsel and hope to mid-singles and later married couples. Jeff and Cathy are both certified life coaches and have university degrees in Family Science. They are the parents of a blended family that includes four handsome sons and one lovely daughter-in-law.
Purchase Jeff & Cathy’s book at: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09KMXXJN7?ref_=pe_3052080_276849420
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