Från den lilla stugan: Stubborn Love

by Chrissy Larson

“Stubborn Love, mom! Play Stubborn Love!” came Milla’s seven-year-old plea from the back seat. “It’s my favorite one!”

We’d been driving around for a good portion of the day, heading just outside of Portland to hit our normal line-up of grocery stores… Costco, Trader Joe’s, Fred Meyer, Target, Noodles & Co. (not really a grocery store, but also in the line-up). Most of the time, my friend Betsy and I could roll through all of this shopping while her kids were at school or home with their dad, but on this particular day, we had her two daughters with us. Ages seven and nine, they had done really well keeping up with numerous stops and carts full of groceries, but as we hit the checkout of our last stop, we could sense them climbing over the peak of grocery-patience, and it was only a matter of minutes before they might start tumbling down the other side. If only we could think of one more distraction… and then it came to us: music. Not just any music, sing-along music.

“It’s by the Lumineers,” Betsy stated a minute later as an addendum to Milla’s plea. “They are my band of the summer. Last summer it was The Head and the Heart, and this summer, it’s the Lumineers. And the girls love them – Milla’s favorite song is Stubborn Love.”

Milla interrupted. “Do you know Stubborn Love? It’s SOOOOOO good. I know EVERY word by heart!”

Betsy caught my eye and admitted with a grin, “She does, actually.” There was a long wait at the next stoplight, and the iPod was adjusted. A second later the song started, and I settled my head back into the headrest, hoping the kids would relax.

First guitar and strings, an errant bass drum, and then… from the back seat came a single voice… a small but confident voice that, just like she claimed, knew every word of the song. Usually a person who can listen to a song one hundred times and still not know the chorus, I found that for some reason, this was different. I was hanging on every word as it came out of Milla’s mouth. “It’s better to feel pain, than nothing at all — the opposite of love’s indifference. So pay attention now, I’m standing on your porch screaming out, and I won’t leave until you come downstairs…” Her first-grade voice knew every inflection, dip and swing of the lead singer. She slowed when the music slowed, and she quieted at the beginning of the outro. And then, just as the drums and background singers picked it back up, she started in with all her might… “Keep your head up, keep your love, keep your head up, my love…”

The chorus continued, and Milla belted out every word with the freedom only a child can know. She sang – the words imprinted on her brain, the music coming from somewhere deep inside her. There was no hesitation, no consideration for whether or not she was exactly on key or had the correct timing. She simply sang from the heart… for anyone to hear. She sang for no other reason but that she loved the song.

I started to think about the words she was singing, and I suddenly realized that she was far from understanding what the song was really about. Stubborn love… something to which every adult can connect but has no meaning yet to a child. Stubborn love is love that simply refuses to give up. It’s love that continues to stick around and continues to wait for people long after it could have walked away. It’s love that knows a person deep enough to know all the pain that tags along, and still chooses to hang on. It’s love that can’t be told, “it can’t be done.”

I stared out the window and thought about how stubborn love can be at times – how patiently it can wait around for a response, how twisted and beautiful it can become as it discovers the dark parts of another person. I thought about the pain and joy that comes when we let ourselves truly love someone. Then my mind wandered to the extra-stubborn version of love that it takes to love a child. I witness this level of love almost daily through my close friends, most of whom are mothers. They stand by as their children wake up on the wrong side of bed and test the boundaries and step out into new versions of themselves. They believe, dismiss, hold back, reach out, let go and cling to their children with delicate accuracy. As a teacher, I, too, know what it feels like to love beyond what I believed possible. We are all capable of stubborn love.

The part that really got me, though, was my realization that I am a product of stubborn love. I am who I am because of all the people who surround me with love not only because they like who I am, but they also like me in spite of who I am. There is a list 40 years long of people who have stepped into my life and stretched themselves to love not only my good traits, but also my mysterious cracks and awkward fissures as well. With each bit of stubbornness shown to me through the love of someone else, I am a more complete version of myself.

Jesus found himself most days in the company of the needy. There were sick people, hungry people, dishonest people, lonely people, dying people, dead people, people missing limbs, people who were bleeding, people who had sores, people who had been, for whatever reason, cast out by general society. I do love meeting new people, but man, I find it much easier to enjoy new people I’ve met when they are fun and creative, witty and upbeat. It takes almost no effort to get excited about people with whom I connect.

But how stubborn is my love, really, when it comes to loving the neediest people? How stubborn is my level of energy and patience for those with whom I don’t connect? Would it hold up? Would it stick around simply because that person deserves more love than what they have received so far? Day after day, Jesus spent his energy loving all the people around him, who – in the opinion of society – had little to offer. The stubborn and unconditional love of Jesus made everyone a more complete version of themselves, regardless of status or genealogy or culture – but most impressively, regardless of their ability to love stubbornly in return. Jesus couldn’t be told, “It can’t be done.”

I wonder what my life would look like if I were equally as stubborn when it came to reaching out to the ones society has deemed fruitless. I wonder what the end of the day would feel like if I had given every ounce of energy and patience to someone who didn’t believe they deserved even a fraction of it. I wonder what the world would be like if we were all so forgiving, all so open, all so genuine and all so willing to find a connection. I wonder what could be done…

Chrissy Larson is an Early Childhood Environmental Educator for Portland Parks and Recreation in Portland, Ore. Chrissy writes from her little urban stuga (cabin) in Portland.

See all articles by Chrissy Larson