As much as we suffer untold disappointments, as much as frustration can haunt our best efforts, as much as we yearn for peace and justice for the peoples of the world, life is more than a soup of unsolved problems.
Life is a gift ... what the Bible calls a "perfect gift" which comes "from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (James 1:17). And this gift of life corresponds to the fullness and generosity of God's love.
I believe Jesus' life is the most profound example of a life lived with the knowledge of being loved. His healing work, the opportunities he continued to give people to transform their lives, the generosity of his patient teaching with doubting disciples, all point to his understanding that he was able to love without measure because he knew he had been loved without measure.
In so many ways when his critics accused him, his response was "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work." And he would explain: "The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do.... For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth" (John 5:17, 19, 20).
To live with the knowledge of being divinely loved is to admit that what we're being asked to do, we are able to do. What makes life feel so harsh is the pressure of feeling that we're always being asked to give more than we've been given. Then even our best efforts make us feel as if we've never quite measured up to what is expected of us.
But life isn't a test of our ability. Life is the proof that the loving God is real. Throughout Jesus' parables, God was honored as the alert Shepherd, the forgiving Father, the fairest Employer, the wisest Farmer, the most astute Judge exercising complete authority over evil. To acknowledge the omnipotence and omnipresence of God is to feel the safety of being cared for, nourished, supported, guided, and cherished.
To live in accord with this love makes incredible demands and requires sacrifices. But whatever effort we make in living our allegiance to God, it pales before the blessing of what we have been and will be given. One of the definitions of the word "sacrifice" is "forfeiture of something highly valued for the sake of one considered to have a greater value or claim."
When we're baking a cake, the promise of the taste is worth waiting the hour for it to finish baking. When we're realizing an inspiration for artwork, or needlework or architecture, the beauty and usefulness of the outcome are worth the patience required to work and rework the detail of the drawings. The significance of a child's life purpose is worth the constancy of a parent's devotion and persistence in offering the support the child needs to move forward.
So it is with us individually. The alertness demanded in order to practice the highest standard of sexual morality is worth the promise of finding relationships that support our spiritual progress. The effort it takes to express patience, good humor, and compassion is worth the blessing of maintaining contact with family, friends, and co-workers.
The problems Jesus faced, even the intensity of the crucifixion, didn't stop his freedom to love. Hanging there, bleeding, he asked his disciple John to care for his mother. In the middle of his own ordeal he validated the faith of the man hanging on the cross next to him. And ultimately he was able to ask God to forgive his enemies' cruelty. This was all before the resurrection. This proves to me that God did not leave Jesus alone on the cross. Jesus was loving through the divine Love which was sustaining him even during his greatest doubts.
The sacrifice that his life illustrates helps us understand the sacrifices we are being asked to make every day of our lives. It is no less than sacrificing the mistaken belief that we are without what we need at any one moment. God never stops caring for each of us. And perhaps what's even more important is that God cares for us as His children in a way that we can understand.
Everything God asks us to do, He enables us to do. This is the promise of a faithful life that is happy, no matter how hard the sacrifice.