I Corinthians 13: I John 4:11-13
The Rev. Tom Herbek
February 14, 2016
I recently discovered a new book, entitled Lessons on Loving in The Little Prince: Insights and Inspirations, by David Robert Old. Having read The Little Prince a long time ago, I was intrigued by Old’s suggestions that it was written for adults – not children- for only adults can understand the symbolism of this special book about love. Old writes:
The little prince is lying on the grass weeping when he’s disturbed by a voice that says, “Good morning.” Since nobody’s in sight, the little prince is puzzled.
The voice is that of a fox under a nearby apple tree. When the little prince sees the fox, he tells the fox that he is very pretty. “Come and play with me,” the little prince invites.
“I can’t play with you,” the fox replies. “I’m not tamed.”
The little prince wonders what “tamed” means and asks the fox. The fox tries to change the subject.
The fox is hesitant to jump into a relationship because he knows how costly it is to care for someone. So the little prince has to ask three times before the fox at last gets around to the meaning of “tamed.” He explains, “It’s something that’s been too often neglected. It means, ‘to create ties.”‘ When the little prince quizzes the fox about this, the fox adds, “For me you’re only a little boy just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you have no need of me, either. For you I’m only a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, we’ll need each other.”
“You’ll be the only boy in the world for me. I’ll be the only fox in the world for you.”
The fox says his life is monotonous. In fact, he’s rather bored. He hunts chickens, and people hunt him. All the chickens are alike, and all the people are alike. But if the little prince would tame him, then his life would be “filled with sunshine. I’ll know the sound of footsteps that will be different from all the rest. Other footsteps send me back underground. Yours will call me out of my burrow like music.”
The little prince is learning to pay attention to the fox. Intrigued by his first meeting, he returns a day later to continue his conversation with the fox. However, he comes at a different time of day. The fox explains that it would be better if the little prince came at the same time of day. “For instance,” he says, “if you come at four in the afternoon, I’ll begin to be happy by three. The closer it gets to four, the happier I’ll feel. By four I’ll be all excited and worried; I’ll discover what it costs to be happy!”
The fox wants to draw one other lesson from the matter of coming at a certain time. “If you come at any old time, I’ll never know when I should prepare my heart,” he says.
There are things that we can only learn when we allow ourselves to be tamed. Certainly this kind of love can happen in a romantic relationship, but it can happen in a friendship, a family, and in a church family. One of the wonderful things that happen every Sunday is that we prepare our hearts for each other.
The fox then shares with the little prince a very important secret:
The little prince is ready to leave, but the fox has promised him a secret to take with him. “Here is my secret,” the fox says. “It’s quite simple: One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.”
The little prince repeats the secret. “Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.”
When we see with the heart, we are able to see the essence of life, able to see the people around us as they are, able to love them for who they are and who they have been created to be. Yet most of us believe no matter what we have been taught about the love and grace of God, that we are unlovable – that is a part of the story we tell ourselves about life. In her book, Rising Strong, Brene Brown says:
Lovability: Many of my research participants who had gone through a painful breakup or divorce, been betrayed by a partner, or experienced a distant or uncaring relationship with a parent or family member spoke about responding to their pain with a story about being unlovable – a narrative questioning if they were worthy of being loved. This may be the most dangerous conspiracy theory of all. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past thirteen years, it’s this: Just because someone isn’t willing or able to love us, it doesn’t mean that we are unlovable.
As we write our own story, we may have to edit it many times. As we become “tamed,” we begin to see that we are loveable. When I was in college, I had a wonderful poster that said, “God don’t make no junk.” As we go through life, we all have to rewrite our story to get rid of the junk. As we go through life, we must not underestimate the power of love.
Years ago, a Johns Hopkins professor gave a group of graduate students this assignment: Go to the slums. Take 200 boys, between the ages of 12 and 16, and investigate their background and environment. Then predict their chances for the future. The students, after consulting social statistics, talking to the boys and compiling much data, concluded that 90 percent of the boys would spend some time in jail.
Twenty-five years later, another group of graduate students was given the job of testing the prediction. They went back to the same area. Some of the boys – by then men – were still there, a few had died, some had moved away, but they got in touch with 180 of the original 200. They found that only four of the group had ever been sent to jail.
Why was it that these men, who had lived in a breeding place of crime, had such a surprisingly good record? The researchers were continually told: “Well, there was a teacher ….” They pressed further and found that in 75 percent of the cases it was the same woman. The researchers went to this teacher, now living in a retirement home. How had she exerted this remarkable influence over that group of children? Could she give them any reason why these boys should have remembered her?
“No,” she said, “no, I really couldn’t.” And then; thinking back over the years, she said musingly, more to herself than to her questioners: “I loved those boys….”
We all have opportunities to love. We all have ways that we can make a difference, can help people who may feel unlovable to know that they are loved.
Although he is describing romantic love, author Tom Robbins conveys this sense about love in his novel Still Life With Woodpecker: “Love is the ultimate outlaw. It just won’t adhere to any rules. The most any of us can do is to sign on as its accomplice. Instead of vowing to honor and obey, maybe we should swear to aid and abet. My love for you has no strings attached. I love you for free.”
God, in this sense is indeed, the ultimate outlaw, breaking all of the rules, loving us without boundaries, without preconditions, without any strings attached. The power of love has no boundaries. The power of love goes beyond anything else we know. We are God’s hands and feet and voices. We must be in the business of taming one another, of caring deeply for each other, of making sure that no one gets the message from us that they are unlovable. But we must also realize that there is some urgency about this task, this seeing with the heart.
It was 1977 and I was a hospital chaplain in Winston Salem, NC, in a large tertiary care center, the size of Strong Hospital. A few days after Valentine’s Day, I was called to the Emergency Room. A woman had been in a car wreck and had just been pronounced dead, and they wanted me to go with her husband to see her body. They had been married about 20 years. He was a manager in a large company.
We went in to see her for the last time and he broke down. We went into the consulting room so he could sign the necessary paperwork. And we stayed there for a long time. He talked about her life, their relationship, how they met, and how much he loved her.
But then he told me that he had been so busy with work that he missed Valentine’s Day. She had taken it okay on the surface, but he knew down deep it really hurt her. It was the first time he had not done anything special for her on Valentine’s Day. He had thought about getting her a belated Valentine’s Day card. But he decided it could wait. He would make it up to her.
“If only I had gotten her that card…,” he kept saying over and over.
Love is such a remarkable and wonderful thing. But we must never, ever, take it for granted. We must do all that we can so that we will not have to say: “If only I had ….”
Life is precious and love is a remarkable possibility in our lives. Whether it is love for a spouse, a child, a sister or brother, a parent, a close friend, or anyone special, we must take the opportunities that we have to show our love.
And, if we somehow forget, or miss the time, then let’s send a belated card, or call the next day, or email the next week. There will come a time when all we can do is say, “If only I had….”
Today, let us each decide to try to eliminate every “if only” from our hearts. Let us do what it takes to let our loved ones know we care; because love is the most important thing in all of life.