Front row seats to the pool. Her kids and mine doing back float drills and breathing techniques. We’ve exchanged small talk before.
She is tall, graceful, around my age, and nearly totally bald – and today she casually drops the reason into our conversation, as if mentioning the weather: a second round of chemo for breast cancer, finished just this summer.
She lost her breasts and her hair right around the same time.
“Which was harder, or were they equally hard?”
“Really? I’d always heard the hair was especially hard to lose…”
She had decided against the reconstructive surgery.
And in the course of the two rounds of chemo, she and her husband had split up. Now she’s single parenting two boys, 7 and 4.
“What an ordeal you’ve been through. I’m so sorry. You probably could write a book about all the lessons you’ve learned – or did you learn anything?”
A pause. Quietly, reflectively and with the wisdom that only someone who has touched this one, particular, distant planet of suffering can produce …”I’ve learned…” breaking off … “My husband and I are now separated, you know, because of this”…another reflective pause…”that love is the most important thing.”
And in those words, I hear a familiar echo: something about how faith, hope and love are the three things that abide — and that the “greatest of these is love.”
I wonder why we, so many of us Christians (I included), fall prey to the notion that the Gospel rests on our shoulders as something that depends on us to “give” those who may or may not “have it” — as if, by our proclamation or lack thereof, the “Good News” will either stand or fall, or as if our utterances are what actually sustain the validity of the claims we make. (After all, at its heart, isn’t the Good News a claim about Reality Itself — a Reality that does not depend on our proclamations in order to be true?)
Love is the most important thing. Some would protest the notion that the Gospel in a nutshell could be as simple as this. Don’t such pronouncements sound like a warm and fuzzy – “secular,” in the pejorative sense – rendition of what Jesus came to do, after all? Without the name of Jesus explicitly uttered next to them, aren’t they little more than watered-down Hallmark greetings?
But I beg to differ. A quick survey of current events — global terrorism and fear, racial divisions and anger, the deep political polarization of my own country and the demonic moral paralysis to which it so often contributes in our life together — calls into question the notion that what is ultimately most abiding and most important is Love. On the contrary, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing the opposite: that what matters most is everything but Love: our security, our comfort, our prejudice and power plots — yes, even hatred. Hatred tends to get the biggest headlines after all, and those who live by this mantra often draw the greatest limelight, if not the most applause.
Yesterday evening, the heart of the Good News that makes this world go ’round divulged itself for me in the space of a poolside chat with a stranger who had a thing or two to teach me as a result of her suffering. Maybe she was a Christian. Maybe she was not. What mattered is what she knew to be true: “Love is the most important thing,” she said. And in the broken places of my life where love falters, I say “Amen.” And “Help my unbelief.”
But…what do you think? If you could sum up the Gospel in one line, what would it be? Leave your comments below.