When you go on vacation, do you ever have that nagging feeling that you left the stove on, or that you’re not entirely sure the neighbor kid is responsible enough to water the plants and take care of the dog, or that you could have serious identity theft waiting for you when you get home because you forgot to stop the mail service?

That feeling chews at your psyche while you’re swimming in the pool, eating fantastic food or riding the elevator to the top of some landmark. It acts like little droplets of panic rippling through an otherwise placid ocean of enjoyment–that is, until the concerns are allayed.

It’s kind of like how I feel about the friends who got away.

These are the friends with whom you once had a close friendship, but then something got in the way, and despite your best efforts, it was irreparable. The thought of something being irreparable completely confounds and confuses me.

Look, if I’m being honest, I want people to like me. But I totally get that not everyone will, and resolve that they’re honestly missing out if they don’t want to take part in the 24/7 party that is Marcus–and that’s sad for them. (I’m kidding–mostly!)

I have trouble, however, rectifying in my own mind situations where people were friends–in many cases, decently close friends–and somewhere along the way wrote me off. I can think of about a dozen people off the top of my head right now who have fallen into that category. There’s no cookie-cutter way this happens. Sometimes it’s something dumb I said or did. Sometimes it’s something they said or did, or in their brokenness perceived or responded to something incorrectly. Most of the time, the truth was in the middle.

In an economy of endless “second” chances, I can’t fathom how these people–many of whom claim to be followers of The Way of Jesus–let one sour moment or season (regardless of the fault assigned) completely implode a relationship.

Look, I know things happen. I know there are some egregious things that take place and fundamentally alter a relationship beyond the point of no return. I know restoration cannot always occur. But I have a deep, abiding belief that reconciliation MUST occur.

If you and I are in conflict, let’s work it out and emerge stronger. If for some reason, it’s bad enough that you can’t bounce back–for example, I accidentally kicked your dog into a lake filled with piranha (super practical example!)–we have to approach each other with love, identify the necessary change in relational boundaries, and go along our merry way without malice.

Without. Malice. Like no groans when that person’s name is mentioned. No snide remarks. No twinge of anger. That takes serious work. For me, sometimes it’s a moment by moment kind of work. But that’s just not the norm, though, is it?

Because when you bump into these unresolved people, it’s extremely awkward. There’s the fake smiles, the fake greetings and the screaming loud subtext of the incomplete. Or worse, there’s complete unacknowledgement.

When I encounter this, one side of my brain thinks it’s really stupid and petty and that I’m probably better off without such immaturity in my life. And there’s some truth to that. But when love is thrown into the mix, all bets are off. You care, and your heart cries out for restoration.

When you love a friend–truly love them with the kind of love that goes out of your way to let them vent, to be there for them, to try to hear them out, to get your hands dirty and your comfort zone reduced–you do the will of God, because you’re emulating His son.

That’s what God wants of us. To love people fully and vulnerably, not even as if they were family, but as if they were… well, YOU. But the rub is that when we start acting like Jesus, we have to expect that we’ll be treated like Jesus was. You see, self-sacrificial love always results in just that–self sacrifice. Broken hearts. Betrayal. Unforgiveness. Abandonment. By those even in your closest circles.

If you haven’t been torched in the pursuit of loving people, you might question whether you’ve actually loved unconditionally.

But for those of you who’ve experienced this, too–it sucks. It hurts. It makes you question, for a moment, your entire paradigm of how you do relationships and whether you should go to all the trouble of pursuing people who could just spit in your face and flip you off. Because nobody likes pain, especially pain that people will say you unnecessarily invited upon yourself.

And all the while, Jesus smiles and shakes His head slowly, saying, “I get it. That’s my story with how I’ve loved the world.”

You see, His love keeps coming back. Keeps seeking, keeps giving, keeps at it. That’s our utterly counter-cultural calling, too.

Love never fails. The Bible says it; I have to believe it. Even though people fail, the most renewable resource in all of the universe–that which created the heavens and the earth itself–doesn’t fail, even if it doesn’t look the way we’d hoped, and we’re left with scars and pints of spilt blood.

There are, however, times when God may tell you to shift from an active pursuit of reconciliation to a standby posture of restoration. Jesus didn’t stop what He was doing to go convince Judas–or even Peter–to be reconciled to Him. He loved fully and let them make their choices. And when Peter saw the error of his ways and returned to the savior he loved, they were restored.

But gosh, it sucks just waiting around, living like you’re on vacation but you left the stove on at home. Like Judas, there’s no guarantee people will ever come back. The hurt remains.

But this is what love feels like.

It’s just part of trying to bring light in a dark, broken world. There’s no other way. God wouldn’t have sent a Comforter, the Holy Spirit, if we didn’t need to be comforted.

Get back up. Do it again. Yep, you’ll get beat up again. Yep, you’ll feel betrayed and abandoned and rejected, and the dust of unreconciled relationship will likely hang in the air like the smog of Los Angeles. The nagging left-the-stove-on feeling will hit you from time to time, as we experience just one more aspect of living in anticipation of the restoration of all things.

To the bleeding hearts, to the people who feel like they’ve cared too much, to the people who wonder if it’s worth it–I say from a very fresh place of experiencing this: It’s worth it. Because the One who has loved us most promises to be with us as we identify with Him.

He is with us. What a promise, which is fully realized in our pursuit of being like Him.

And since love never fails, we also get the promise of someday seeing just how victory came out of the things that have felt like crushing defeats.

Keep loving. Keep living. Keep getting hurt and healed and comforted and empowered. The world needs what you have.