Steven Spielburg’s 1989 movie ALWAYS is about a risk-taking aerial firefighter, played by Richard Dreyfuss, whose plane explodes after his heroic rescue of another pilot. He is mourned by the love of his life, played by Holly Hunter, but he is gifted with the ability to still speak to her and others he left behind. In one of the final scenes, he inspires the grieving Holly Hunter to begin living again with this unforgettable line: “The love we hold back is the only pain that follows us here.”
In some ways, that might be the best one-line summary of Jesus’ message I’ve ever heard. Jesus was once asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God will arrive, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” (Luke 17: 20 – 21) Properly understood, the often-cryptic words of Jesus about being prepared for the arrival of God’s kingdom might be summarized as warnings about not missing out on the love that can be shared so fully and graciously in our lives on this side of the grave. Like the athlete who says she will leave everything on the court or the field, Jesus says don’t get so focused on the next life that you leave any love behind in this life. Our experience of eternal life actually begins with the love we share in the here and now!
It is just my observation that, in America today, we appear to be tempted to not leave one mean thing unsaid, not one moment of righteous anger unexpressed, not miss one opportunity to blow a car horn or shout an obscenity. Outrage is in vogue, and we are all contaminated by it. The problem is that we are creating hell-on-earth rather than the kingdom of God on earth. I wonder what it would be like if we were to start with the ones we love, and make a commitment to not leave one kind thing unsaid. If we were to think more about the love we share and less about the things that divide us. If we were to pick up a phone and at least make an effort to repair a broken relationship or ask forgiveness for harsh words said in a moment of anger. What if we really believed that the love we hold back is the only pain that follows us into eternity?