It’s Valentine’s day! Because it’s Valentine’s Day, I thought it appropriate to write about love. However, this left me wondering exactly which angle to take. It would be WAY too easy to just spout out some drivel about romance, it being Valentine’s Day and all. And the blogosphere has already been inundated with the love vs. sex debate, thanks to Fifty Shades of Grey. I’m not even tempted to go there. I want to go deeper; to really delve into what love is. What, I asked myself, does love really look like?
Being a pastor, I naturally went to the Bible for answers. The Apostle John seemed like the most obvious choice for answers on love, as he wrote about it a lot. He used the word at least 57 times in his Gospel alone. Add to that his 3 letters and the book of Revelation, and....well, John wrote a lot about love.
In his first letter, John wrote, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (v. 4:8)
According to the Gospel of John, chapter 15, Jesus told his disciples:
· As the Father has loved me, I have loved you. Now remain in my love. (v. 9)
· My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. (v.12)
· Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (v.13)
· This is my command: Love each other! (v.17)
Seems pretty clear. We’re supposed to love one another. In church camp we used to sing, “They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love...” Of course, that still begs the question then – what does love look like?
I do not think love looks like what our culture insists it looks like – fabulously wealthy, sexy people with pouty lips having babies, then posing and selling the photos for millions of dollars to magazines. (Sorry, Kim and Kanye.)
Love isn’t about candy hearts and chocolates and flowers – although those things are, indeed, lovely – nor is it about telling someone that they are “your valentine” on the one day a year that Hallmark has reserved for it.
And while I’m on the subject, none of those things have anything even remotely in common with the original Saint Valentine, who was martyred in the year 269 AD, by the Emperor Claudius. Valentine, apparently, was a Christian priest in Rome who protected other Christians and hid them from the Emperor’s interrogators. Since professing Christianity and aiding fellow Christians were crimes, Valentine was arrested, imprisoned, beaten with a club, stoned with rocks, and finally beheaded for his stubborn refusal to recant his faith. Not very loving.
Valentine was canonized by the Catholic Church and (for reasons that elude me) was made the patron saint of love, marriage, engaged couples, epilepsy, and plague. (Yes, you read that correctly. Plague!)
What that has to do with chocolate, candy hearts and flowers, I don’t know, but I suppose it’s better than “Happy Valentine’s Day – have some plague.”
But I digress.
So, what does love look like? A researcher asked some children what love looks like. Their answers are rather thought-provoking.
· "Love isn't always how you look. Look at me. I'm handsome like anything and I haven't got anybody to marry me yet." - Brian, age 9
· “When you tell someone something bad about yourself and you're scared they won't love you anymore, but then you get surprised cause not only do they still love you, they love you even more." - Madison, age 7
· “Love is when Momma goes bungee jumping and Daddy goes with her even though he screams bloody murder the whole time like a girl.” - Sasha, age 8
· "When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn't bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That's love." - Rebecca, age 8
· "When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth." - Ashley, age 4
· "Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen." - Jason, age 5
When I was a little girl, I insisted that I loved everyone in the entire world. I remember feeling very comfortable and happy about this. However, someone told me, “You can’t love everyone. That’s impossible.”
I was crushed.
I truly believe that’s what God wants for His children – that we will love everyone in the entire world, just as God does! Jesus was pretty clear when He said, “Love each other!”
Every human being on the earth has value. Every human being is loved by God, and is worthy of being loved! To extend compassion and respect and kindness to everyone – regardless of where they live, what they do for a living, what language they speak, who they love, or what they believe – is commanded by God. “Jesus replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength... and love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matt 22: 37, 39)
It isn’t up to us to find a loophole.
Jesus prayed that his followers would be one, just as He and the Father are one (John 17:21-23) and that we would experience unity. If we are truly “one,” that infers that we ought to love others as God loves us.
We aren’t doing a very good job of that. Don’t believe me? Turn on the news. How many people have been killed or abused or gone hungry today? I rest my case.
I do think that it is still possible for Christians to love everyone as God does. Maybe I’m just a raging optimist, or maybe I’m certifiable, but I remember that huge feeling of warmth and goodness, compassion and peace, and...well, love... that completely filled my heart for the people of the world back when I was little. And I still have that feeling. Not necessarily all the time, but I still feel it.
I felt it when Malala Yousafzai demanded that girls have the right to go to school despite threats from the Taliban. The feeling intensified when Malala was shot in the head, and again when she not only recovered, but addressed the UN General Assembly. I felt it when I heard about the earthquake in Haiti, and watched on TV as the dogs ran over the rubble, searching for survivors. I feel it whenever there is a hurricane, or typhoon, or flood, or tornado, and people race in to help. I feel it every time I see a photo of the teeming streets of Delhi, or Beijing, or Rio de Janeiro.
I feel it when I watch children playing. I feel it when I visit the residents of the nursing home. I feel it when I see strangers smile on the street. I feel it when I hear music from faraway places. I feel it as I watch the Olympic Games on TV this week. And when I feel that feeling, I just want to wrap my arms around the world.
So. What does love look like? The only way to really know for sure is to look in the mirror.