Loving Her


I spent the month of August living with and caring for my grandma, who is in the early stages of dementia. It was a bittersweet time as I grieved to see how this disease was robbing someone I loved of reason and functionality, while at the same time enjoying the moments when her old spark and personality shone through.

I grew up near my grandparents, and we were very close. In their presence I always felt completely loved and secure; they showed me what a healthy marriage looked like; they impressed on me so many of the life values that I carry to this day. My grandpa, even more than my grandma, played a vital part in my formation as he stepped in and took on roles that my own father left unfilled. Grandpa has been gone six years now and we all miss him. Especially grandma. We can trace the beginnings of her decline to the dark days after my grandpa died.

As I cared for grandma I did it in honor of the person she has been, and in love for the ways she touched my life. But some days were more difficult than others. Sometimes she was unreasonable. Sometimes she was despondent. Sometimes—out of her confusion and growing inability to regulate her emotions—she became angry and hurtful. At those times I felt my patience and resolve wearing thin.

But then I thought of my grandpa. I thought of how he had worked hard to provide for her. How he had shielded her from some of the harsher realities of life. How he had loved her tenderly as a soul mate and friend. I thought of how he would grieve to see her present decline and I could picture how gently he would treat her if he were here. And in those difficult moments I could still care for her because I loved him. Because I honored him. I would think, “This one is for you, grandpa.”

As time went by, I began to realize a deeper application for this lesson. You see, I have been struggling with the church for a while. With growing alarm I am coming to see that the body of Christ is sick. Disease and dysfunction rob it of reason and vitality. It can be viciously hurtful to both insiders and outsiders alike. And my response has been to become disillusioned and distant.

But in that month with my grandma, I heard Jesus asking me to love the church, His bride.

I must first of all love her because I am her offspring. There are still glimmers of life—still hope—because something dead could never reproduce. And, as imperfect as she might be, I have been formed and shaped by her.

But even more than that, I must love her because I love Him. He who is so dear to my soul gave Himself for her existence. She is His cherished and precious bride, who He longs for and continually nurtures. With eyes of love He sees her potential beauty, even when she is being downright ugly.

So many questions remain as I consider loving the bride of Christ. What is the essence of the church? How do I recognize it? Is it a building? An event? An institution? No way. Is it the individuals, is it the group? Yes and yes, but… ???

And what does love actually look like? How do I love this schizophrenic, harsh and healing, deeply damaging and sometimes life-giving entity that I can’t even define? Is love tough? Is love tender? Yes and yes, but… ???

I am at a loss for answers. But I do know that as I sat by the pond behind my grandparents’ house I found myself walking along another shore with my Lord and Lover, and I heard Him asking quietly, earnestly:

“Do you love Me? …Tend My lambs.”

“Do you love Me? …Shepherd my sheep.”

“Do you love Me? …Take care of my bride. Love her.”

“The Prayer of Examine produces within us the priceless grace of self-knowledge. I wish I could adequately explain to you how great a grace this truly is. Unfortunately, contemporary men and women simply do not value self-knowledge in the same way that all preceding generations have. For us technocratic knowledge reigns supreme. Even when we pursue self-knowledge, we all too often reduce it to a hedonistic search for personal peace and prosperity. How poor we are! Even the pagan philosophers were wiser than this generation. They knew that an unexamined life was not worth living.”

—Richard Foster; Prayer, page 30




I have a confession to make. I am a hopeless daydreamer. Again and again I withdraw to worlds of my own making, even though I know I should stay in this one. Each time, I struggle to drag my unwilling mind back into reality, resolving to keep my head out of the clouds and my feet planted firmly on the ground. But soon I find myself dreaming again. Back and forth it goes. And I grow weary of the fight.

And then I read something that shocks me.

“Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth…”

And I begin to understand. I was never meant to keep my head out of the clouds; that’s exactly where I am meant to be. Not the misty dreams of my own creation, but the Reality that exists in the heavenly, spiritual realms.

My mistake was in thinking that reality lay in this world around me; the world I can see and hear and touch. But that’s just small “r” reality. The truest Reality is the spiritual world that exists just beyond the reach of my senses. The Reality of a spiritual kingdom, of battles raging, of a Hero of valor and goodness, an ending so happy and beautiful that it is beyond even MY wildest dreams—and that’s saying a lot!

And in this realization—in this Reality—I find the truest and most noble employment for my imagination. God invites me with a sparkle in His eye—“Try, just try to imagine what My Reality is. Give it your best shot. Make it as glorious as you can. Even then you will fall short.”

And you would think that with such an offer, such a worthy challenge, such an opportunity to explore undiscovered depths of truth and beauty, that my mind would be happily engaged in Reality and never long for fiction again. But still I find myself slipping back into fantasy. And I am disappointed. And I wonder why. But deep down I know.

In my dreams I am in control. I am the central character of the story. And I am amazing. Witty, calm, captivating, brave—the very best version of me I can muster.

But that’s not Reality. It isn’t even small “r” reality, although I sometimes live like it is. I often choose a self-centered perspective, grabbing and grasping for control, desperately trying to present a me to the world that “has it all together”.

But big “R” Reality brings me face-to-face with Truth—that I am a very small, broken part of a story which I do not control—and I am disillusioned and I am overwhelmed. And it turns out I am woefully unprepared for Reality.

But then a glimmer of understanding hovers at the edge of my mind, and although I grasp it imperfectly the paradox leaves me breathless. By becoming nothing, I begin the process of becoming far more than I ever dared hope I could be. By giving up all control I receive the freedom to write a few small lines of my own into this cosmic drama. Only when I am stripped of my illusions can I see my deepest, most beautiful dreams fulfilled.

And so I am left with this. My fondest dreams are self-deception. The reality of this world is mere illusion. Invisible things are the most Real. And that Reality far exceeds anything I could ever imagine. And so, when I run hard after Reality with all that is in me, I receive my dreams back again.