I have been thinking a lot recently about what love looks like – real love, love that transforms, love that heals, love that brings hope, love that is in it for the long haul, love that really makes a difference. I have realized as I have thought about it that I am not very good at it. I love my child, my family, my friends but they are pretty easy to love most of the time – I have chosen them or they are a part of me and so love for them comes naturally and that love is fierce and overwhelming.
Is that though the love that the bible talks about?
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13 vs 13)
I have no doubt I am asked to love the people that God has given me to share life with but I am pretty sure that that is not where it ends.
The other week I heard someone say that the gospel could be summed up as always being willing to love the next person that came along. I love that! But what if that person doesn’t fit into the type of person I want to love or that I find easy to love. What if that person is difficult, or needy or smelly?
Then on Sunday I read a really familiar passage from the bible, from Mark 2 and in particular verses 2 and 3 just really hit me in the gut – “Some men came, bringing to him a paralysed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on.” That is quite some effort for that man’s friends to go to – to take time out of their day to carry their friend to find Jesus, with presumably the hope that he could heal him, but then they get there and they can’t easily get to Jesus because the crowds are massive and so they climb up with their friend to the roof, and then start to take the roof apart to be able to lower their friend to Jesus. As I thought about the level of their friendship I was really impacted – they put in so much physical effort, presumably a fair bit of emotional effort as well as risking embarrassment and getting into trouble for taking someone’s roof apart. They jumped in and got stuck into the mess of their friend’s life, they showed commitment, compassion and faithfulness despite of how hard the circumstances were or what the outcome was.
I would love to think I would show that same commitment to people– to sit with them in the hard, dark places, to stick with them even when issues and struggles did not disappear quickly or when those same issues and struggles were tough and heavy going and when it meant personal discomfort or inconvenience to me. If I am honest I think there are probably times where I haven’t been able or wanted to go to those places because it pushed me out of my comfort zones, or when I was just plain lazy and/or selfish.
I say those things totally and completely believing that love is the most powerful thing there is, and knowing it has the power to change lives but yet often my sin, my humanness and my rubbish just gets in the way of loving the way I was made to do and called to do.
On the flip side I have experienced that love in abundance when I have been so undeserving of it. As I waded through my grief, my anger, my hurt, my questions I was truly horrible at times – I lashed out over and over again. People would say to me that they thought I was doing amazingly but I knew the truth that if they asked those closest to me, my parents, my brother and my closest friends they would be able to tell them a very different side. My pain was so deep and so big that at times I just didn’t know how to handle it. I can feel the tears coming as I write this as I think about the faithfulness those people showed me, they never stopped loving me even when I was at my foulest, they would hold me as a I screamed and sobbed, they listened patiently as I threw questions, struggles and confusion at them – they got right in there, right in the crap of it all even though they were hurting themselves and walked through it with me, sometimes pulling me through – quite simply loving me through it. I would not be where I am today without them. They showed me true love, the love of God.
I have been given so so much in terms of family, friendship and community that I know that so much is expected back of me. So how do I do that? I believe God wants me to love not just those that are easy to love but those that are difficult, those whose lives are not easy and comfortable, but those whose lives are in chaos, those whose lives are broken- even when that is really uncomfortable for me.
I work for a charity called Church Army, which works with hundreds of people, each year, throughout the British Isles, who are on the margins of society – the broken, the rejected, the hurting. Over the past year I have grown in passion for this organization – I love what it does, its projects are amazing – so many people sacrificing so much to get stuck into the brokenness of people’s lives to bring hope and transformation. I have the privilege of working with people, many of whom I often wonder if they are actually angels. They have shown me what real love means – transforming, healing, powerful, life-changing love – loving when it is hard and messy and complicated- young people self-harming, women locked into lives of addiction and prostitution, homelessness, mental health issues, deprivation.
So as the challenge has come my prayer has become “God help me love the next person that comes into my path with that life changing, hope giving love that only comes from you, and don’t let me hide away when that love is hard, when it takes commitment, when it is out of my comfort zones.” I truly believe that if we truly learnt to love we would see so many more lives transformed and situations changed and healed. That type of love is infectious and so life giving. I can think of people I know and love who just shine with that love and every time I spend time with them I feel closer to God and come away with a desire for more of God and more of that love. I am desperate to get better at it but I know that that will be an on-going choice to push myself, to think beyond my own needs and to keep falling into God.
“I am a strong believer in aggressive love. And it challenges me to the core. I AM going to love my neighbour. I am going to forgive. I am going to have faith that things can and will change. I am going to hope that my children will lead a better world than the one that I leave behind. And I fight that lust that licks at my feet day in, day out, choosing generosity, love, inclusion, hope, faith, …it is these things, and these things only that make an eternal difference in our world.
Live an inclusive life, not a selfish one. Challenge yourself to seek faith, hope and love in every circumstance. Don’t just look out for yourself, but build into other – share you life openly, spread faith, hope and love around generously.” (DVO)