The poor fella was wrapped tight as a Twizzler. He had himself knotted this way and that with questions about Plan A’s and Plan B’s and what-might-have-beens if only he’d had better sense or swerved left instead of right. We can be downright violent with ourselves whenever we walk into that inner torture chamber where ugly brutes named guilt and shame guard the door.
“Does God have a plan?” he asked, desperate for me to say yes.
I’m never quite sure what’s behind these phrases we like to toss about, so I asked. “What do you mean by plan?”
He looked at me, head cocked, and he paused. “Well, I don’t actually know.”
Slowly, he began to work it out. He feared that he’d screwed his life up so much that it was beyond repair. A trail of missteps and hard knocks and gutter balls brought him to the moment where he wanted to know he wasn’t forever consigned to God’s Plan B, a life that was at very best only second fiddle.
I interrupted the maddening circle these conversations inevitably create because one truth had become very clear to me. “I think the question you’re really asking is if you are loved. And the answer – absolutely – is yes.”
He looked up, eyes moist. “I’ve always had trouble believing that.”
“I don’t have much to offer on Plan A’s or B’s or LL’s,” I said. “But I know that love carries you. I know that there isn’t a moment in your life when you aren’t drowned in love. I don’t know about these mysterious, Oz-like, behind the curtain plans, but I know that you are loved. And I know that, because of love, you are okay.”
I raised my drooping head, my soul dripping shame, in order to ask forgiveness. There was barely space to get the words free because she had already begun to pull me into her bosom and to bury her cheek in my chest. “I forgive you,” she said, without hesitation. Without demand. Without holding any part of herself back as penalty for my foolishness.
In marriage, you find yourself replaying the story of the Prodigal time and again. Sometimes you’re the one watching for the other to come home. Sometimes you’re the one needing to come to your senses and make your way back. Either way, love must be the central player if our marriage is to truly be a marriage.
Though calendars collide for no good reason, I find it timely that yesterday we were marked with ashes and today we celebrate love. Surely there’s a rhythm there. Dropping our pretense, lowering our guard and welcoming mercy makes all the rest of it possible.
The earth, O Lord, is full of your love.
The Psalmist prays this singular line fixing our attention on the center truth of the universe. Interspersed among other words describing acute distress, affliction, lies, entangling wickedness, rage and derision, this single-line prayer, in the most literal sense, grounded him.
These sparse words grounded him in God’s kind faithfulness by grounding him in the very dirt on which he knelt. The earth, goes the prayer, is full of God’s love. Not the temple. Not his friendships. Not the fulfillment of miraculous provision. Not even, in this case, Holy Scripture. But the dirt – the boulders and the pebbles and the shrubs and the miles-deep stratum of soil, rock and shale – course with the relentless love of God.
And this love of which the Psalmist speaks is defined by compassion, tenderness, a heart-rich kindness that will not let loose. The Latin word is misericordia, a tenacious love pursuing those whose hearts know too well the miseries of this world.
The ground on which we walk and live, struggle and weep, dance and make love, pulses with God’s active, tender mercy. In the truest sense, we are held up, every moment of our life, by love.