Emily Rapp is currently on the book tour circuit for "The Still Point of the Turning World." It is the story of her experience raising a son who at the age of nine months was diagnosed with the terminal degenerative Tay Sachs Disease. She then spent the next couple of years pouring herself into nurturing and caring for a child who would pass away before preschool.
Typically when we love our children both in the present moment, but also with an eye to the future. We make personal sacrifices that are ultimately for their long term gain. We are patient as they learn and grow because we imagine the beautiful future for which we are preparing them--they are both children in the present and adults in training with an eye to the future. I remember holding my screaming infant all night, sleeping less than an hour myself (Kristin did this far more often and for that I bow to her). We did it because we believed it was important that our child know deep within that no matter what, good times or bad, we would be there for her. We hope there is some subconscious remembrance of this during the teen years.
What must it mean to love without any hope for the future--to love, sacrifice, and prepare... when death is certain and not in the distant future?
We run into this in the church sometime. We run programs, do ministries without any guarantee of future connection. Some bemoan that while we offer a thrift clothing store, most if not all connections made through it will not lead to a Sunday morning worshiper connecting with God and growing in our community. We might meet the needs of stay-at home moms, or single parents, or the poor, or children in the community, but there is not always a return on our investment, or so it seems.
I suspect we could learn something about unconditional love from Mrs. Rapp. Who must have grown to understand loving in the present for the sake of the present. Love is not an investment, from which we expect a return. Nor is love insurance, which will give us a measure of security. Love is a gift--it is given in the moment for the sake of that moment.
Our children may never remember the loving sacrifices we make for them. They may not return the favor when we are old and feeble... but that does not negate the love we showed, because love was our gift for that moment.
Those to whom and with whom our churches minister may not "return the favor." They may never join us for worship, they may never become financial contributors, they may never join a ministry team, but that does not negate the love we showed, because our gift is for the moment. And God invites us to show that love moment after moment after moment...
It is not deserved, it is not always reciprocated. It is a gift. It is grace.