Until I had children, I don’t think I realized the elastic nature of love. Of course, love has a comfortable resting state, an optimal window in which it most likes to operate; however, love is far more elastic than most of us know. I have watched human love stretch to extremes: parents loving a child mired down in the morass of mental illness, spouses faithfully caring for each other through the indecencies of aging, children deeply committed to parents who have failed them time and time again, loved ones living in Intensive Care Units.
While human love stretches, it is also easily strained. I know from my own experience as a parent that my love, despite my best intentions and even at its most elastic, is often not long enough. From little failures like late pick-ups and lacking lunches to larger failures like my own impatience and pre-occupation, the not-enough nature of my love grieves me. But even parental love sometimes fails, as David, the poet-king of Israel knew.
“For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me in” (Psalm 27:10).
Not so with agape love, the love that originates with God and God alone. Our most elastic love can and will fall short, but “the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save” (Isaiah 59:1). Even though our sins have made a separation between us and God, an eternal gulf too far for any human to fathom (Isaiah 59:2), God’s elastic love has crossed the chasm through incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection.Speaking through Isaiah the prophet, God reassures his children of the elasticity of his love.
“Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands, your walls are continually before me” (Isaiah 49:15-16).
You love us to extremities –
From heights of heaven to depths of hell,
Both in living and dying, you loved us well.
You love us in our extremities-
In heights of beauty, in depths of depravity,
Your steadying love is our only gravity.
You us through extremities-
From east to west, Your arms were spread,
To make the ever-living from the long-dead.
Your Love meets us in our extremities-
Elastic and eternal, Your love does stretch.
From every place, Your children You fetch.
The shortness of my love (which often comes out in the shortness of my temper) can become an opportunity to point to the elasticity and enough-ness of God’s love.
In one of my favorite verses in the entire canon of the Scriptures, John the beloved apostle simply states, “When Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1).
The Greek word telos, translated as “the end” above, carries a broader range of meaning then its limited English translation. While it refers to the end of Jesus’s life, it also refers to the full capacity, the full-length, the full-strength of his love. He loved them to the end, yes, but he also loved them to the fullest elasticity of his love.
When my often-inflexible, never-enough love keeps me up at night, the reality of his fully elastic, ever-enough love soothes me to rest in a love far fuller than my failing love.