Most of us are somewhat familiar with the poet Tennyson’s observation “it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Apparently not everyone agrees with Tennyson’s observation because with the passing of time his observation has been turned into a question, “Is it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?”
My sense is that the answer to the question would depend upon people’s experiences with love. I don’t know if Tennyson was referring only to people, but we all know that even though we do love people, our love is not limited to people. For example, in my life I have loved many pets that eventually died. I grieved the loss of each one, but never regretted loving any of them.
In terms of my work as a pastor, I have served and left four churches. My first experience was as a summer intern youth minister. As I left that church to return to college I was stunned how hard it was for me to leave.
Following my summer internship I got a part time youth minister position close to the college I was attending. I stayed there for five years, but eventually accepted the opportunity to serve a small church near the East coast. As we pulled out of the church parking lot in our U-Haul I could not hold back the tears.
The same thing happened 10 years later as we went to the airport to head to California where I had the opportunity to plant a church. Some 33 years later I was embarrassed (although I should not have been) to cry as I began my drive to Texas after I said good-by to three of my best friends with whom I played golf.
All of us have lost loved ones (family and friends) and grieved their passing. I could go on with more examples but I think the point is clear. All of us have loved and lost in a variety of ways and situations.
Let’s return to Tennyson’s observation as well as try to answer the question people have asked in light of his statement. While some may reject it, I’m confident the majority would agree with Tennyson’s observation, “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” But how do we answer the question, “Is it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?”
In a 2012 article Dr. Jennifer L. Kunst suggests “We ask, wouldn’t it be better to protect ourselves from the pain of loss by never loving—really loving—at all?” Some may ask that question, but I don’t think many do. Dr. Kunst reminds us that “painful feelings of loss are an inevitable part of love. To be true to my best self, I must embrace the reality that the more I love, the more painful the loss.”
Perhaps the questions we might ask ourselves are, “Is it worth it? Is it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?” My answer is a resounding yes. I agree with Dr. Kunst, “How sad it would be to live our lives in a mode of self-protection that costs us some of the most precious experiences of life: to love and to be loved.”
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