For the past five years I have become friends with some really amazing people on this journey with Motor Neurone Disease (MND) / ALS.
They are people who I have come to love dearly, people who I have shared the highs and lows (mostly lows) with, as the disease continues to relentlessly ravage their body and eventually take their life.
Recently, I lost three of these friends to this disease, all within two weeks of each other, and all from my hometown of Newcastle. Then, I lost a fourth friend a month after that.
I was emotionally drained. I’m not proud to say, I began to build a wall of resistance around my life.
I built a wall that I believed would protect me from ever again feeling the pain of loss that death and suffering had brought.
My prayers had become prayers of self indulgence and self focus. Prayers like, “God I can’t and won’t do this anymore. I won’t reach out to people who are dying, just to be hurt and disappointed.”
To my shame, I didn’t want to get to know more people who I would come to love, just to lose them.
No sooner did I pray these prayers than I was being introduced to four other people who had just been diagnosed with MND. In fact, today, I am meeting up with two of them for coffee.
However, to tell you the truth, I was really struggling to open up, to again build relationships, only to see my friends suffer at the torture of this disease.
I knew that unless a miracle happens in our lives, we would be separated by a cruel death.
Then something shifted.
In my pain, I began to think about all those who have loved and been hurt.
I thought about others who have loved and lost: the partner who has loved and been abandoned; parents who have buried children; children who have seen the parents they love separate; anyone who has loved and seen that love rejected; the young person who opened their heart to have it crushed by abuse or unfaithfulness.
I came to realise that there were others like me who had built or were building this same wall to protect themselves from further pain.
I could see how easy it would be to build a wall of resistance for self preservation.
Why? Because I was doing it!
How easy it is to believe the lie that it is better to not love than to lose the one you have loved.
Soon after the funerals of my friends and being introduced to others who would soon become friends, I was chatting with God and reading my Bible (something I try to do each morning), in particular Ephesians 5: 1-2 which says:
Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behaviour from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.
The words, “His love was not cautious but extravagant,” just captured my heart and my mind, they penetrated deep into my soul, challenging and at the same time changing me.
Those words, like a bulldozer, began to smash the walls of my resistance and defense.
This Jesus who loved and yet was hurt, rejected, ridiculed and eventually put to death, continued to love without caution. Jesus loved without a sense of self protection or preservation.
In fact, His love was extravagant.
I again began to understand that a life without love and loss is not a life that we are called to live.
We are meant to live life loving courageously.
I found that when my heart decided to love, the resistance that my mind had built up began to crumble.
I may not fully feel the deepest of pain that you may be feeling today, but I do now understand the resistance you may have to fully loving again.
Can I encourage you to courageously find a way to communicate from your heart to your head that love is worth another go?
To love will have its challenges but to overcome those challenges and to love again means to begin to live again.
To live again means that your love is not cautious but extravagant.
You may have had a broken marriage, but you can love again.
You may have had a friend die, but you can love again.
You may have had a colleague manipulate or bully you, but you can love again.
Your trust may have been smashed into a million pieces, but you can love again.
Will it be easy? Are there guarantees that you won’t be hurt again?
No. It won’t be and there aren’t, but if you don’t learn to love again, then the guarantee is you won’t experience all that life has to offer.
Begin today, at least in your heart, to go where you have feared to go. You don’t know where your next step will take you, but a step takes you forward, and through your built up walls of resistance.
As you allow these walls to come down, watch how your life opens up to new possibilities. You will find that the walls didn’t just keep you locked in, but kept others out who can love you and with their love, help you love again.
As for me, I will continue to meet new friends or as they are affectionately called in the United States, PALS (people with ALS). I will love them and at times lose them, but as Alfred Lord Tennyson once aptly said, “’Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.”
And it’s true for you too.