I’ve been sick the past few days. I felt so poorly yesterday that I barely left the couch. Thankfully, my husband was home and could take care of our three kids (our oldest is 4 years old). I watched the everyday, normal chaos unfold from a feverish, congested haze and thanked Jesus (again) for such a wonderful, servant-hearted husband. When I get a bad cold like this, I always lose my sense of smell and then I can’t taste anything, either. While not being able to smell is a perk when it comes to diapers, it’s not very enjoyable to eat things without flavor.
As I was chewing on a completely tasteless carrot yesterday, I started thinking about how I would describe “flavor” to someone who had never been able to taste. How do you explain the tart tanginess of a raspberry? Or the subtle sweetness of carrots?
I once knew someone who couldn’t taste. I remember feeling astonished when he told me. He kindly thanked his wife for dinner every night and complimented her cooking, even though they both knew he hadn’t tasted a thing!
For that matter, how would you describe the beauty of a sunset to someone born blind? Or even something as basic as the color green? How would you explain the emotional pull of a good song to someone born deaf?
Our senses are pretty amazing. They help us connect more closely to something outside of ourselves, whether it’s the smell of freshly baked bread or the bubbling laughter of a baby. They’re also very easy to take for granted–and very difficult to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced that sensation before.
Growing up, the story of Helen Keller fascinated me. I couldn’t imagine not being able to see or hear. It seemed miraculous that she was able to overcome so many obstacles and still manage to learn and connect with both people and the world around her. She had the benefit of experiencing all five senses, including sight and hearing, for the first 19 months of her life, but surely she couldn’t consciously recall those early memories. Still, she must have had a vague, faint memory of enjoying a deeper connection to people and her world than she now experienced.
Here’s my question: What if people, as a whole, have lost the use of a “sixth” sense? What if we were originally created with the ability to deeply connect with others, God, and this world, but our capacity to love and know we are loved has been severely damaged? What if that sense of longing, that sense that something is missing, that hope that some day things will be better…what if that yearning is based on reality, even though we can’t perceive it right now?
Though Helen Keller couldn’t hear birds chirping, or people talking, or rain tapping, or storms thundering, they were still happening. And though she couldn’t see stars shining, or friends smiling, or the sun splashing rich colors across the sky at sunrise…they were still happening.
In the West, we like to base our decisions and actions on what we know…and by that, we mean what we can discover by combining our five senses with systematic logic. There’s nothing wrong with science or research or the scientific method–I’m a practicing registered nurse and remain a strong advocate of evidence-based practice based on good, solid research. I value science. However, science can only go as far as our own senses and logic can take us. It’s hard to discover or prove something if you have no way to “see” or “hear” or “taste” or “feel” or “smell” it. If we’ve lost one of our senses, reality is still happening, even though we can’t perceive it.
The feeling of “love” is not something that is easy to describe. It’s not something we can prove with one of our five senses, but it remains a powerful reality that shapes both people and the world. Feeling love/loved motivates people to do extraordinary things, and lacking love/feeling unloved pushes people to do horrifying things. Though we can’t see, hear, taste, touch, or smell it, love is real.
Love is a reality, but it’s something we “see dimly.” Our understanding of it is shallow, though we often recognize it when we experience it. Our ability to show love is superficial, though I think it’s the primary thing we were created to do and enjoy. Real, true love shapes, supports, and infuses everything else…true love, I think, is the basis for true life.
If life is really about love, and if in our brokenness we’ve lost our ability to truly love, then we’re actually missing out on true life every time we fail to love.
One problem lies in our misperception of the word “love.” Different people picture different things when they read the word “love.” Many imagine romance or sexual attraction. Others visualize friendship. Others picture themselves enjoying a chocolate bar–in English, we say, “I love chocolate!”
Real love is so much more than any of those things, however. Real love is relating rightly to God, people, and all of creation. True love is meeting the needs of another even at great cost to oneself. It’s wanting good for someone and then doing that good.
Real love is who God is and how He relates to all of us, all the time. But here’s the tragedy: We march resolutely through our days, longing desperately for love, and yet we’re oblivious to the Source of all Love. We’re unaware of God’s presence, love, and beauty infusing all that is good around us. His love is right there, and He longs for us to experience it and return it, but we can’t sense it.
We’re like a man dying of thirst, sitting right next to pitcher of clear, ice-cold water…but he doesn’t know it’s there, so he doesn’t reach for it or drink it.
Jesus came to fix this tragedy.
I just finished the manuscript for the sequel to my first book–the sequel is called The Easter Storybook, and it’s about the life of Jesus. The best word to describes Jesus’ life is love. It’s amazing how consistently, thoroughly, and unselfishly He met the needs of those around Him, healing people and fixing what was broken. His life of love was achingly beautiful. And when He died in our place then victoriously came back to life, He conquered all that is wrong once and for all! Because of Him, we have hope that one day our ability to love and know we are loved will be fully restored. Our “lost sixth sense” will be repaired, because Jesus is making all things new. He is the cold Water and He came to bring it to us.
My sense of taste (and smell) started returning today, and I delighted in the flavor of food again. I also smelled some gross, messy diapers. I decided to gratefully accept the “bad” since it also came with “good.” And I thanked Jesus for all the glimpses I see, almost daily, of His goodness and love. They’re easy to miss unless I’m looking, but they are there. And so is He. I can’t wait to see Him face to face and finally dance in His love, beauty, light, and grace.
“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
– I Corinthians 13:12-13