A year or two ago our family read aloud a book for school: The Giver by Lois Lowry. The story is set in a futuristic Community where pain, suffering, and sorrow have been eliminated through rules, science, and a mystic power known as ‘receiving memory.’ I’m not much for sci-fi or fantasy, but The Giver made me think, and I appreciate that in a book.
In order to eliminate discomfort, the Community does not remember all the bad things that have happened in the past. One person, the Receiver of Memory, holds all the memories of Before, all the pain and pleasure of freedom. When he gets old, he must pass on these memories to a successor, else they will be released to come back and haunt members of the Community. (It’s as weird as it gets, I know, but stick with me.) The protagonist of the story, Jonas, is chosen to be the next Receiver of Memory and his predecessor becomes known as the Giver.
Jonas is amazed to discover color, the ocean, and other delights through the memories. The thrill of sledding down a snowy hill is like nothing he has ever known, and he cannot understand why it was outlawed in the Community. Until the Giver shares the memory of a wrecking sled, in which Jonas experiences the pain of a broken leg.
Jonas discovers that all good gifts bring risk. Take, for example, romantic love. If you fall in love with someone, the joy and pleasure are difficult to equal. But supposing that person betrays your love, in a small way or in a deep way. The pain can be heart-rending. That is why in the Community, romantic love is forbidden. The stirrings, as they term attraction for the opposite sex, are quelled with drugs taken daily. Marriage partners are assigned, and children, delivered by professional “birth-mothers,” are assigned to family units, no more than two children per couple. But when Jonas has experienced the memories of natural family, united in love, he wants everyone to be able to experience it for real.
Of course, real families are not perfect. If you give them the freedom to choose love and kindness, the individuals might choose selfishness and hurt one another. In order to avoid that hurt, the Community has eliminated the real family. Throughout the story, the Community is focused on analyzing emotions and working through them so that no one is unhappy. But all their so-called feelings, with their carefully chosen words to identify them, are plastic, sterile, and fake.
In truth, all good things come with risk. In the world where we live, where mankind’s sin has corrupted God’s perfect creation, we have to choose whether the good we want is worth the pain we might experience. Whether it is worthwhile to go sledding when we might wreck. Whether it is worthwhile to love others who may not love us back. Whether it is worthwhile to follow Jesus even when He will ask us to do something uncomfortable.
I would rather know pain in its fearful reality if it means I may also know joy in its abundance. We don’t have to enter a restrictive Community to dull our feelings. We can teach ourselves indifference and make our hearts calloused to protect ourselves from pain. But we will also dilute our joy.
This year, I want to learn from the Lord how to live fully engaged, as He created me to live.