Padre Robin Richardson blogs from Afghanistan with his thoughts just ahead of Christmas.
Christmas is almost upon us and for me, as for many, it is a time of mixed emotions. That is because for a large number of us we shall be apart from our nearest and dearest this year and that will leave a hole within our celebrations. A hole which cannot, and I would not want to, be filled. And that hole, that gap, that moment of quiet pain is the place within our lives where love is framed. For Private Jack Howard’s family, and those closest to him, and I cannot begin to imagine the pain they must be enduring just now; that hole must seem deeper and wider and darker than mere words could begin to express and all our thoughts and prayers rest with them. Without love we do not feel separation or loss, but I for one would rather been open to the hurt that loving and being loved brings than to live without it.
I saw an old man visiting his grandson at the hospital at Camp Bastion last week. The little boy had been injured in an insurgent attack that killed two others. As I walked past the bed where this little one lay, I saw his eyes light up and a smile draw across his face when the old man gently blew some bubbles from the little bottle of soapy mixture he held. The old man was far from home and living in an alien environment whilst his little grandson recovered enough to leave the hospital, but there was nothing that would keep the doting old man from holding vigil as the staff at the hospital cared for this brave little lad. There is an associated cost in loving and in being loved as this old man well knew, but I would rather bear that cost than be wealthy without it.
As we approach Christmas Day here at Shahzad and across 3 PARA’s area of operation I am seeing senior blokes looking for opportunities to free up the younger lads up from duties on Christmas Day. I’m witnessing how people from chefs and junior commanders right up to the Commanding Officer himself are hoping to lose some of their own freedoms at Christmas in order to open up more for others and I see again that love and care and commitment does time and time again call people to lose some of their own ‘rights’ or ‘freedoms’ for the good of others.
Love, it therefore seems, can be a costly thing. It opens us up to the pain of separation and loss, it demands our time, effort and energy and it can lead to the loss of some of our freedom to do as we please. But ask the newly married or the couple celebrating 50 years or even those whose love is not expressed in terms of marriage whether it is worth it, and I think most would think it is.
Christmas is all about God loving the world so much that He was ready to endure the separation of His only Son coming to live amongst those who would eventually crucify Him, because He loves us. It is about God being ready to bear the cost of living a painful, earthly life and suffering death upon a Roman cross away from the glories of heaven, so that we could see His face and know His forgiveness. It is about the Creator of the universe giving up the freedom of His eternal rights, to walk our lives with us. For many of us, this Christmas will include some pain, because our lives have known much love. And for that, uncomfortable though it is, I give thanks.