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.”