Killing myself so that my child could have my heart would not be a choice I’d like to make, but it was the subject of a video that my teenage daughter had begged us for weeks to rent.
You may remember that movie where Denzel Washington plays a desperate father whose insurance refuses to pay for his son’s heart transplant.
When selling all his possessions fails to raise enough money for the heart transplant, John Q takes a heart surgeon hostage in the Emergency Room. As efforts degrade to get his son on the heart transplant list, John Q makes plans for a sacrificial suicide that will enable his son to take his heart.
When the hostage doctor agrees to do the transplant, the operating room is prepared. John lies down on the gurney, puts the gun to his head and – after taking several short breaths – he demonstrates his willingness to pull the trigger. I’ll stop there in case you want to watch the movie.
It was that particular scene that stirred the internal drama in the heart of our daughter prompting her to ask a serious question of her mother.
“If I needed a heart, would you be willing to do that for me?”
My wife and I both stammered trying to explain that the movie had oversimplified some difficult healthcare questions. We tried to say that taking over an ER would be quite difficult and there would be no deals made with the hostage taker.
Nevertheless, she remained undeterred as she blazed past our explanation and said, “Okay, but would you do it? Would you kill yourself so that I could have your heart?” I wasn’t sure whether she was asking if my love was sacrificial or suicidal.
Her question was a very powerful version of the oldest questions in humanity – Do you love me? How much? How will you show it?
Her questions were not unlike the ones I had been hearing that week from a paraplegic who had finally realized that there was nothing she could do to regain the love of her mother.
With mounting medical problems, the woman felt like she had nowhere to go, no one to turn to, and nothing left. And now she was asking to discontinue the medical treatment that could keep her alive at least another ten years.
“I never imagined that there would be a day in my life that I didn’t know the love of my mother. Now that day’s come,” she said.
“I reach out. I try to get a hold of her love and she turns away. I don’t have legs to visit and when I ask her to come see me, she’s too busy.”
Dying one day at a time for the last twenty years, an accident had taken her legs, a stroke had taken her career, and now she was beginning to lose her sight. She could no longer see the hope of love returning to her life.
She was wondering what we have all wondered at times. Even Jesus had a moment like this – wondering about the love of one particular disciple.
Soldiers had taken Jesus away to be crucified and the disciples scattered thinking they would be next. But when Peter surreptitiously followed the mob, he was questioned about his association with Jesus – and not only did he deny loving him, he thrice denied just knowing him.
So in a meeting after the first Easter, Jesus posed a question designed to allow Peter to show Jesus his love – not just to say it.
“Peter,” he called, “Do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord, of course I love you.”
Three times the question was asked and answered. Each time Jesus got the last word when he challenged Peter to “Feed my sheep.” (Meaning, take care of my followers.)
Jesus, the paraplegic and my daughter were all asking the same question – what are we willing to do for love?
Love is a verb, and it is declared and shown more through our actions than through flowery phrases or empty reassurances. It’s love in action that shows love, sows love, shares love with others.
Jesus was asking Peter to express his love in action. The paraplegic woman was longing for her mother to express her love in action. My daughter was asking me if I would express my love for her through my actions.
Okay, maybe I don’t have to give my daughter my actual heart to show her how much I love her. But I can take action. I can give her a hug. And I can reassure her that when the time comes, I’ll be willing to do what it takes to show her through my actions just how much I love her, because my heart is already hers — it has been since the day she was born.