This week I will celebrate 9 years of being married. 9 years, that's it. We are not even out of grade school yet in this union. So I'm still learning a lot about love. It's by far the hardest thing I've ever done. Webster defines love as "a feeling of strong or constant affection." I'd personally like to get Webster in a room to talk about the feelings I have experienced that were often strong and constant but were in fact NOT affection. Webster, you lied! The Urban Dictionary and Wikipedia lie too for the record. One of them includes the phrase, "deep euphoric affection." If that doesn't set us up for failure I'm not sure what does.
Our definitions have basically relegated love to a feeling. If I feel love, then it must be love. If it meets my needs, I will call it love. We've somehow managed to do the same with God's definition of love even though it doesn't contain the same words or sentiment. Most people know 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 "Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy,…" we read it like a poem. A fantastic piece of beautiful literature. We put soft music behind it and orate during our weddings, anniversaries or vow renewals…"love does not boast, it is not proud, it is not rude, it is not self seeking,…" We calligraphy it to print on programs to hand out to our loved ones, we crosstitch it and frame it in our homes…."Love is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs." It's on the coffee mug we hold in the morning and the bookmark we use at night. We've turned it into a piece of decor, a greeting card and a t-shirt…"Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trust, always hopes and always perseveres."
I'm not sure if you caught it but those are ALL hard things to do. And NOWHERE in God's definition does it indicate that it matters how I feel or if I want to. His own love story involves thorns, nails, a heavy cross, a pleading to take this cup away and death. It involved turning his back on his own Son so that He could open his arms to ungrateful, selfish, sin-filled US. Why is it that we believe our love stories would be floating clouds, blooming flowers, unicorns, and endless encounters of celebrating our feelings? He gives us a definitive definition that doesn't depend. Like 2+2=4. In math, it doesn't matter what you are adding, doesn't matter how you feel about it, doesn't depend on what you need the outcome to be; 2+2=4. Every time. No matter what. He gets that it is going to go against how we feel and what our circumstances are so He gave us a definition that has absolutely nothing to do with our feelings. Instead He gives us a checklist of behavior.
Which means love is patient. Every time. Doesn't depend. He tells us to be kind because, well we aren't. He instructs us not to be rude because, well we are. And just as we are getting ready to unleash the list of all the ways we have been hurt and that our anger is justified, He includes that love keeps no record of wrongs and is not easily angered. Aaahhhh! Surely I'm not the only one who has daily interactions that makes this definition difficult. The spouse who doesn't have you on their radar, the friend who only calls when they need something or has stopped calling altogether. The child who won't obey, the boss who won't notice, the family member who blames everything on everybody else, the neighbor who is selfish and the person in customer service who doesn't care that you are a customer and wouldn't recognize service if it hit them in the face. Yet, I am to love them. To be patient, to be kind, to not be rude, to not think only of myself and how they can serve me but to honor them. And I am to do it right there in the midst of not feeling loved, noticed, respected or honored in return. That makes me want to throw the 1 Corinthians 13 coffee mug and break it into a million pieces.
We romanticize love in our culture. To the point of doing ourselves and each other a disservice when we think that love is an easy, calligraphied choice that flows freely from those who feel it. When it isn't we give up, call it quits, and move on to the next best feeling. I submit to you that these verses are not included in scripture to warm the cockles of our hearts. This is a difficult directive breathed down from the thrown of God and expected to be lived out by those who follow Him. If it has a soundtrack it should be the theme to Rocky or something that reminds you that you are going to sweat. You won't find this verse hanging in my home just like you won't find my workout routine or the protocol for my root canal prettied up and posted in a frame. I find this to be difficult and important stuff not art! He says this is how they will know us. This definition, this heavy lifting, growing, stretching, instruction is, if we walk it out, what sets us apart. John 13:35: By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
So when we are patient, it points to Him. When we are kind whether we want to be or not, it points to Him. When we take down the scoreboard in our relationships and simply love, it speaks of Him. When we honor others, it honors Him. When we don't care what's in it for us we look more like Him. When we aren't focused on the outcome of the relationship but instead the outpouring of our own hearts it mirrors Him. It is how they will know us. It is a directive from a perfect God asking us to be empty vessels and channel how He feels about others in a way that draws them to Him. It has never been and never will be about us or our feelings. Not in our marriages, not in our friendships, not with our kids, not in the marketplace, the workplace or the church. It's ALL about Him. I am to love because of His love for me. He is patient, He is kind, He isn't easily angered and He keeps no record of wrongs. Love is not just something we find or that is given to us. Love is something we become, that we allow Him to be in us, And THAT kind of love…"never fails"