This is embarrassing, but when I was younger— a teen-aged, horse-crazy youth— I kept a running list of quotes in a Word document stored on my mom’s computer. They were idealistic quotes I had found on the internet: all about love. And not just love, but very cliche, very fairy-tale, fantasy, rescue-me type love. Stuff my now twenty-eight-year-old self would cringe at and think was cheesy. I roll my eyes slightly just thinking about it, and at that naive girl who knew nothing of love and who viewed the world through rose-colored glasses. The definition I held was but a drop in the bucket compared to love’s true definition. Like the last flash of sun on a summer’s night, it was what my hands tried to catch, but what would always slip through my fingers. There I was again, left wandering in the dark. Why is love such an intangible thing?
My definition back then was innocent and sincere. But it was still so far off. Because you can love, and think you’re loving. While in truth, you could be as far away from love as the sun is from the earth.
We are all on the search of learning to love. Yet, where do we look? To those around us? To our partners, to our friends, to our world? But what if our search becomes fruitless… for, some hearts are not full; they’ve gone cold and don’t function. They’ve been wounded too many times or are bound up by fear. Some hearts are evil; they’ve been hardened, left hurting, and are held hostage to hate. And every heart is full of its own dark corners and mixed motives. There are secrets we keep that have been silenced by decades of shame. There are words we’ve said that we’ll always regret. There are things within each of us that lead us to wonder if the human heart can be trusted at all. And can it? Or could it be true that at least part of the predicament we are in as a people has resulted from hearts not so unlike our own? Hands that are so quick to point fingers and injure. Tongues that are unbridled and unmeasured. The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? 1
Look around at the state of our world. How can we say that we know how to love?
We feel hopeless. Because we are trying to define something that we seem able to only imperfectly give. But love, I don’t believe, should be defined by human standards. Or corny quotes or rom-coms; or from experiences born out of broken families, where love was fragile, earned, or sparse. From lips that made promises they could never keep, or by hands that hurt more than heal. No, love is too lofty a thing for human definition. Love should instead be defined by the one who embodies it best: God.
I type this with reverence and awe. I haven’t always known God’s love. And there are times I’ve let my own experiences taint and blemish it. But God’s love is pure; it’s somehow what my teenage self was looking for all along. God’s love is patient, and it is kind. It reaches across boundary lines to pull others close. It reached through my pride to pull me close.
God has loved us all at our very worst. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the un-godly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 2 God’s love evens the playing field, because it shows us that we have all fallen so heartrendingly short of perfection. God’s love sees past our external trappings of color and charm and bravado and success, but rather sees straight into the heart. Love sees every imperfection, but it does not shame. Love sees every hard heart, but does not condemn. Because whatever love touches, it cleanses. God so loved the world, he gave his only Son… for us. For us, hell-bent on hate, dissension, and greed. For us, the quiet, the passive, the ones who keep silent when we should speak up. For us, who are wrongly accused, oppressed, and marginalized by others. For all of humanity, God’s love came and died in human flesh for us.
What kind of love does this?
God’s love does. And it emboldens us to walk forward because we know we are— astonishingly— both safely held and perfectly understood. God’s love makes us whole and washes us in forgiveness. We are emboldened because we no longer have any reason to hide. Love penetrates us. Love changes us from the inside out. It’s more than just behavior modification; it’s a renewed heart. Because when you look perfection in the face and are not scorned by wrath, but are rather embraced… love will change the way you live.
Love, in return, asks much of us. It asks us to prefer others to self 3; to serve in humility 4; to forgive seventy times seven times.5 To love our enemies and speak up for those with no voice.6 It asks us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. It is hard an holy work, and there are times where we will fail. Probably more frequently that we’d like. But we will love best once we understand the way God loves us. And then we will strive to show that same love to others.
Love asks so much— but only because it has already done the very thing which it requests.
Friends, God’s love is our surest hope for the world. It’s a love greater than my teenage self could fathom. It’s a love rooted in self sacrifice and forgiveness. It’s God’s love alone that truly changes us. ♥