[Recently, my best friend and his wife experienced the tragedy of a miscarriage. After he called and told me the horrible news, I was flooded with an onslaught of emotion in empathy with my friends. While I recognized that what I was experiencing in empathy didn’t begin to scratch the surface of what they were going through, nevertheless I hurt deeply with them to the point of weeping over their great loss. My love for them is deep enough to understand the truth that when one part of the Body suffers, we all suffer. In my empathetic suffering for them, I struggled to process the overwhelming emotions stemmed by their tragedy. And as I usually do when facing the unfamiliar waters of uncharted emotions, I turned to writing to help me process those emotions. The following is what was birthed through my grief. I dedicate this post to honor my dear friends and the memory of their child.]
In his masterfully beautiful Sonnet 116, William Shakespeare penned a phrase that eerily haunts me during the difficult times in life:
“Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds”
These words were probably not meant to evoke such an emotion. Sonnet 116 truly is one of the most beautifully woven groups of words ever to grace an empty page. It espouses the surpassing greatness of the greatest of emotions: love.
Yet it haunts me. As it unfolds the eternal, unchanging nature of true love, it reveals the inadequacies of my own fallible love. It cuts deeply into my own shallow view of love and reveals it for what it is: lonely, fallow ground, starving for a seed of truth.
When I read these harrowing words during times of testing and tragedy in life, I am instantly reminded of the transitive nature of my own love… for God.
During the mountaintop moments of life, my love for God and trust in Him ride high on the gentle breeze of comfort and ease. It’s during these times that I am most likely to praise God for His graciousness to me. I gratefully count my many blessings and unhesitantly attribute them to the Father of Lights from whom all good things come. With no hindrance, I love Him.
Then it happens. My circumstances change. Times get tough. Testing comes. Tragedy strikes. And during these times, I hate the words of Sonnet 116. They haunt me. They remind me that my love for God should be no different during the worst times in life than it is during the best times.
But in brutal honesty, I must admit that I alter with the winds of change. I ask, “How could God allow this to happen? Where is God now? Doesn’t He love me?” And in my questioning, I reveal the true nature of my love and trust, summed up in a single succinct word: conditional.
Thankfully, the story does not end in that pit of despair. Questions may remain unanswered. Emotions will have to be wrestled and conquered. The seconds will pass into minutes, the minutes into hours, and the hours will turn to days. And after I have waded through the thick mud of emotion and the dust begins to settle over my battle with the spectres of truth, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Because the words of Sonnet 116 remind me not only of the transient nature of my own love, but also of the unsurpassed beauty of God’s never-ending, unfailing, unalterable love for me.
And in that moment I find grace, tried and true, enough to see me through the darkest of valleys in which I have found myself once again. I am reminded that God is still God, and He is still good. The tragedy of pain and death reminds me woefully of how things were supposed to be. Tragedy is tragic simply because it was never meant to be. Joy was never meant to clouded by suffering. Happiness was never meant to be overshadowed by pain. Life was never meant to conclude with death. Life, true life, was never meant to be like this.
And with the arrival upon this great truth revealed through eyes fixed on the Unchanging One, I realize that He is slowly lifting me out of the pit. His love is of such caliber that He created a world to be perfect for us, and even after we marred it beyond recognition, He sacrificed Himself to redeem it. In His unchanging love, He is making all things new. Suffering will be overcome by joy. Pain will be blotted out by eternal happiness. Death will be swallowed whole by the majesty of life forevermore.
And though this great reality does not make tragedy any easier to understand, it does help to make it more bearable. Questions may remain unanswered, but one thing is certain: God is love. Not that fleeting, transient, conditional emotion we try to convince ourselves is love. He is love in its truest, purest form. He never changes. He never fails. And in His consistency, we find comfort and solace in even the most inconsistent of times.
Allow me to conclude with someone else’s words: Sonnet 116 in its entirety, followed by a few words from the Scriptures that undoubtedly inspired the poet to match pen to page and create such a masterful depiction of the greatness of unalterable love.
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
– Sonnet 116, William Shakespeare
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
– 1 Corinthians 13:7-13