“Don’t hesitate to say ‘I love you’”
Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. –Matthew 18:18
If there is a rift between you and someone from your past who still takes up a good amount of real estate in your heart; if things were said or left unsaid in certain relationships that can perpetually be held in the periphery of your everyday life; if there are people you long to see but never admit to yourself how deep that longing is in order to keep doing nothing to reach out to that person, there’s always a funeral on the horizon, whether immediate or in an unforeseen distance, to invoke the inevitable.
A dear friend’s mother died a couple of weeks ago. The funeral was yesterday. I grew up with the bereaved grade school peer. Our mutual friends came out of the woodwork to honor his mom’s life, and to support our pal in his time of need. Some of us approached each other with hesitancy, giving timid head nods upon making eye contact as if to say, “Do we leave it at this, or do we shake hands? Is it okay to ask about more than just what we’re up to lately? What’s appropriate, and how much is too much?”
But after the service at the cemetery, with the sun shining and people gathering at the open-air tent for the internment, the apprehensive dam burst. Approaching that place and that moment of overt finality, we saw each other walking up from yards away and opened our arms to say, “Come here.” The hugs were airtight and longer than a quick second. We placed hands on one another’s shoulders with a quiet affection that said, “I’ve missed you.” And at the reception, we stood in a circle, food and drink in hand, reviving old stories about our intertwined lives, telling new ones about where life has led us since, and laughing to the point of tears that spoke clearly, “I love you. I love you so much.” It was liberating.
It’s often said that we should work out our problems between each other, maximize our time with dear friends and family, and tell people we love them as much as possible because today might be our last. It’s a good sentiment, but it’s a bit self-absorbed; the implication being that if we don’t do all of that, we’ll regret it—that I will regret it. Jesus gives us a more outwardly focused discipline that goes beyond relieving one’s own regret. The extent to which we forgive one another in this short life determines how much of heaven will be revealed for all to see on earth. The more we love one another without condition or hesitancy, the more the kin-dom for which Jesus lived on this earth will be shown to us and to everyone blessed to be in the circle of our communal affection. And the more we see heaven, the more the kin-dom of God is liberated from the far-off concept of a heaven for the regret-free individual and into the realized conception of heaven on earth for all people, the easier it is for us to act toward one another with justice, mercy, and love without reservation every day. The more we see it, the more we can be it. And the good news is that we don’t have to wait for the next funeral to let loose an “I love you” that has the power to set somebody free to live as we’re meant to live, to be as God intends for us to be, to love one another as we love ourselves. That’s the kin-dom on earth as it is in heaven.