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John Calvin puts forward a very simple reason why love is the greatest gift: “Because faith and hope are our own: love is diffused among others.” In other words, faith and hope benefit the possessor, but love always benefits another. In John 13:34–35 Jesus says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Love always requires an “other” as an object; love cannot remain within itself, and that is part of what makes love the greatest gift.
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I Lost Mom, but I’ll Never Lose the Church

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It was 6:45 p.m. on a Sunday last March. I was surrounded by my three older sisters and a few other family members. We watched as my mom, who moments before had life support removed, took her last few breaths. For five grueling minutes, we watched as her chest increasingly slowed its movement with each inhale and exhale, until it didn’t.

One of the pains of losing a loved one is that their life came to an end, but yours didn’t. You still must face tomorrow and the days to follow. One of the strangest feelings that night was simply leaving the hospital. My sisters and I had spent several days in a waiting room as Mom unsuccessfully fought the repercussions of cardiac arrest. After almost a week of praying for her healing, we had to walk away from the hospital that night without her—marking the beginning of a strange new chapter in our lives.

Church Was There

I was left to figure out how to live the rest of my days without a mother. The pain that comes from losing a parent at a young age is difficult to describe, and as I write, I still feel it. Yet God in his good providence had already instituted a major cure for my plight—his church.

It’s not hard to find articles pointing out the church’s shortcomings. Our reading streams are inundated with digital fingers pointing out her stains and failures. And yes, the church is frail and frequently falls short of her calling. Yet in all her missteps and imperfections, she met me in my sorrow, and she was exactly what I needed.

Whether it be the moment I got the call that my mom was unresponsive in the kitchen, the days my sisters and I spent in the ICU, or the days ensuing her loss, the church was there. And it wasn’t just my church. I saw the overwhelming love of the church at large on display. My wife and I got texts, phone calls, messages, and personal notes letting us know our family was in their prayers. We had friends drop off food, clean our house while we were away, take care of our dog, put us up, spend time with us, and leave us alone when we needed it.

Persistent Love

Though these acts of kindness were immediate, the church’s love didn’t wane with time. It’s been months since Mom died; those who’ve had a similar experience know the pain comes in waves. The most unexpected moments can trigger a memory that brings a wave of sorrow. But so often my waves have been interrupted by the kindnesses of God’s people. These glorious intrusions have been moments of light when it felt like the darkness had won.

And more than just physical acts of kindness and quality time, the church has served as embodied evidence of the glory yet to come. Death is a stinging reminder that things aren’t right, a cruel signpost that we aren’t yet home. But there is a gloriously strange calm in walking with the saints through suffering. Each member of Christ’s body is a trophy of grace, which reminds the hurting that God is in the business of resurrection.

While it’s not hard to find someone in the news, on social media, or even among friends ridiculing the church for one of her many stains, in the bitter providence of losing my mom I learned I wouldn’t want to live without God’s people. This isn’t to deny or make light of the fact that the church has mishandled the pain of many people in the past—maybe even your pain. But while she’s not perfect, she was the exact kind of messy, broken, God-ordained, blood-bought haven I needed in this tragedy.

It’s vital for Christians to press into the local church for a number of reasons, including fidelity to the Scriptures. But we should also press in because during tragedy, you can find sweet refuge as the redeemed point you to the supreme Refuge.

I lost my mom, but I’ll never lose the church. In this, God has given me grace upon grace.

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