“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
Someone I loved once gave me two matching elephants from India for my birthday. They were studded with small colored mirrors and jewels. I loved the giver of the gift deeply—and often liked to look at the elephants as an old married couple that one day we might be.
That one day never came.
One night, driven to let go of the giver of the gift and the pain of my lost dream, I laid the elephants on the altar of my kitchen counter. I needed an outlet for the anger–and grief, if I’m honest–so I slammed a hammer down on the “girl” elephant. Bits of mirrors and jewels flew and skittered across the counter, but the “body” of the girl elephant remained intact—brown and solid like packed earth. Again I pounded it. More beads and mirrors split and scattered, but the body withstood the blows.
One final assault: I slammed the hammer against the elephant with as much weight and muscle as I could swing—and yet she endured.
I can’t say I’m above tantrums. I threw one. A big bratty one. And I hauled all that the someone-I-loved had given me to the dumpster. I flung the bag, wincing when it smacked the tin stomach. Suddenly, I felt starved, hollow, pathetic. Achingly sad. I’d miss the married elephants.
Since that day, I have come to think of that little girl elephant with fondness. My hope was never supposed to come from “what could be one day,” but from “what is”—the truth of Christ, the Christ of truth.
“What is” is true love. It is Christ with me and for me. It is Christ in me. But unlike the mirrors and beads that made the his-and-her elephants polished, pretty, the beauty of true love is often quite ugly. It stuns and surprises because of its hard-bodied resilience. Because of its bold-faced truth. Because of its unexpected out-of-this-worldness.
Christ laid his body down on a splintered cross and allowed someone to hammer nails through His hands and feet. And that’s just the beginning of His ugly, sacrificial love for us.
And it is the substance, the grace, beneath and in and through and above all things in this world that allows a single jewel or mirror to hang together, that allows for any kind of beauty to take shape at all. Christ is the ultimate Giver of the only gift that endures—grace amazing.
Through it human love needs no Taj Mahal in which to declare itself to the world; it needs warm, battered bodies of people, who are casting their lives in the shape of Christ—Christ crucified, yet resurrected. Just when we’ve hammered away each other’s mirrors and jewels—the things that first made us beautiful to one another—the ugly, most enduring part of love emerges. This love sees clearly all that is underneath (the flawed, the hungry, the desperate, the broken) our puffed-up, painted-on, pretended surfaces. This type of love sees these flaws, and yet can, without faking a thing or denying the deficiencies, see them as God’s territory of redemption.
For this reason, do not trash what appears to be broken. An ugly human love—in its brokenness—can by Christ’s unbreakable grace be the most beautiful, most unspeakable gift we can ever give to one another, and the most healing gift we can ever hope to receive.
It is our only hope or power of being redeemed. “What is” makes all things possible—perhaps even for little “married elephants.”
Julie Cramer is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. Unlike most, she misses the Texas heat and long summers.