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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

What is Love?

It's been so long since I have written that there are too many thoughts trying to squeeze their way out my fingertips. I fear these fingers cannot dance across the keyboard fast enough to keep time with heart words spilling over. This may not be eloquent as the words just gush out. At first I thought this post would be about grace. God is teaching me so much about what His grace really is, and it seems like the message has been bombarding me for months from all angles. I have had opportunities to see it played out and to put it into practice. I haven't been able to ignore it. I understand now how much I misunderstood His radical grace, but I am not sure if I am confident enough to share all of what I have learned yet. It's still so new, and to be very honest, it is still strange and hard to grasp. The denomination that I grew up in taught grace in words, but the actions of grace - the fleshing out - often fell short, which even now, as an adult, is confusing, but as a child, even more so. I think this is where my misunderstanding began, and I think this is why I am hesitant to share. So then my thoughts turned to love, perhaps because this week marked my thirteenth wedding anniversary, and love has been on my mind. Perhaps because it has been swirling around social media. Perhaps because my teenage son is growing older and daily closer to love and marriage, and I am desperate for him to grasp true love and experience it first here inside of our home, so that he is capable and ready to give it away when the time comes. Perhaps because a friend and I had a mild freak out yesterday realizing that we were raising somebody's husband. {deep breath} That's heavy. As I have walked through these past few days knowing that I would eventually find myself drawn here, locked inside of my room, in front of a laptop, that I had to carve out the time to come here and fill up this space with words, I realized that grace and love are so mingled. The truest version of them is married together. Real grace cannot exist without real love, and true love cannot exist without true grace. When we encounter authentic grace married to authentic love it is one of the most beautiful reflections of the heart of the Father and the gospel of Jesus that we get the privilege to discover here on earth.

There has been a lot of talk about love lately. There are some heated debates swirling around social media. In truth it is rather ugly to witness. It's polarizing. I have remained quiet, because there are humans involved, and i have yet to figure out how to add my voice in a way that does not heap on hurt to one side or the other. So many people on all sides are hurting, and it is so sad. Let's be honest, in the spewing of arguments on social media, especially when they are not cloaked in genuine relationships with one another, nobody wins. In arguing about love; it just looks like hate. In the midst of all of this tension, though, I have personally been reflecting on love - what does real love look like? For several months now, actually since the beginning of this year, I have been meditating on I Corinthians 13; the passage known as "the love passage" in Christian circles. This passage is slapped onto wedding programs and sweetly read over naive wedding couples in numerous churches. It was true for my own wedding. The verses are made out to be cute and pithy and easy as two young people gaze adoringly into each others eyes, dreaming of the life they are starting together. Hollywood has glamorized love in such a way that is is unrecognizable to the real thing, and so many of us have bought into it, and our children are growing up mesmerized by the allure of it. They think that the fake kind of love, the selfishness, the lust, the mushy gushy feel-goodness that masquerades and parades itself as love, that is displayed all over movies and TV and sung about on the radio is attainable and desirable and right. And they think if they don't find that then they are missing out on what everyone else has. As I am writing this post the lyrics of that cheesy eighties song is bouncing around my head, What is love? Baby don't hurt me; don't hurt me, no more. But the truth is that silly song, like so many of us, has missed the mark on real love. Real love does hurt. Love deliberately gets up, goes again toward that person it is aimed at, and it understands that in the process it is choosing to serve someone and put someone's needs ahead of its own in a way that is so vulnerable and so exposed that when you truly love someone, hurt is unavoidable and it will happen again and again and again. 

Love actually does hurt.

Real love entwined with grace is wild and different. It's mature and wise. It's strange and unnatural. It fights against our flesh and our human bent. Just look carefully at I Corinthians 13. It doesn't look very much like the love in the movies. There is so much more to the depth of it. It is the heart beat of our life. It is all that matters. Without love, nothing we do or say even makes a difference - it's all empty. We are given two commands from Jesus to live out our days. The first is to love God with everything inside of us and all that we are, and the second is to love others as much as ourselves. (Matthew 22:37) He promised that if we could love Him and others that everything else would fall under that. Can you imagine what the tapestry of our world could look like if Jesus followers actually practiced these? Almost everyday I hear myself quoting these two commands to my children in hopes that they will comprehend and live out what so many of us have forgotten. But what does this love look like? If it is not the Hollywood love, what is it? The Message version says that we are bankrupt without love, and then in verses 4-7 clearly spells out what love is, what love does. And it is pretty radical.

Love never gives up.
Love cares for others more than for self.
Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.
Love doesn't strut; doesn't have a swelled head.
[Love] doesn't force itself on others.
[Love] isn't always "me first'.
[Love] doesn't fly off the handle
[Love] doesn't keep score of the sins of others,
[Love] doesn't revel when others grovel.
[Love] takes pleasure in the flowering of truth.
[Love] puts up with anything.
[Love] trusts God always.
[Love] always looks for the best.
[Love] never looks back, but keeps going until the end.
Love never dies.

I Corinthians 13:47 The Message (emphasis mine)

Love shows up and shows out. It is not dependent on the love of the other person. It is active and pursues, and fights again and again and again. Yes, there are all kinds of love, romantic love, friendship love, family love, etc., but all real, genuine love have these same above characteristics at its core. To never give up, to care more about another than oneself, to forget wrongs, to cling to truth, it's all hard, and it all hurts at times. But it is always worth it, and love like this - the real deal kind of love is enduring and the greatest gift we can give to another human. But if love hurts so much, and is so self-sacrificing, and demands so much of us, why would we want it? The truth is love chooses to hurt, because love chooses to love. It sounds cliche' to say love is a choice, but honestly it is. Love is a daily choice. Our perfect example of flawless, true love was Jesus, and He chose you. He chose me. He looked at us in all of our weakness and brokeness and mistakes - past, present and future, and with a love that cannot be comprehended, He tenderly cupped our chin with his scarred, nail-pierced hand, and said, "I want you". We did nothing to deserve His choosing, His love. We could do nothing. We were incapable. His love chased us down, pursued us, and His love sunk into our mirk and sat in the mud with us, embraced us right where we were and accepted us wholly, completely - as is. It's a wild, untamed, alluring kind of love that is not afraid of our filth, and in the filth is where its partner grace enters in, grace goes right into the mess, holding hands with love, and rescues us and carries us out, while we are helpless and unable to rescue ourselves. When Jesus, perfect Love incarnate, allowed Himself to be carried to that cross and murdered, He saw you and He saw me. He saw everything we would ever be and do, and He saw that we were incapable of anything on our own, and He lovingly came anyway to get us. He LOVED us. And now we are compelled to love, because He first loved us with an unfailing, never-giving up love. A love that is yours and mine despite us, a love that we could never sustain, and we don't have to! We cannot make God love us, He already does. I cannot earn His love, and I cannot do anything to deserve it, and wrapped up in that truth rushes in love's mate grace. Authentic grace is cloaked in love and it races in hot pursuit after us and meets us right, exactly where we are, looks us square in the eyes, sees our innermost ugly, and loves us into a beautiful invitation of abundant life. Because love compells it to, grace so gently and tenderly drags us out of the murk and into life.

I am speculating that the way we love others will look a lot more like I Corinthians 13, rather than the phony Hollywood love when we finally recognize the complete way that we are loved and accepted. The way we love must change when we truly understand the outrageousness of the love that was poured over us, while we were so unworthy, love that manifested itself in drops of Jesus' blood, and when we finally get that this perfect love has absolutely nothing to do with us, and the grace that is married to His love crashes over us and transforms and breaks in and heals and changes us. This marriage of love and grace that is ours is explosive, and it it permeates everything about us. Perhaps when we truly grasp how deeply we are loved, we will stop feeling so threatened by the world around us, and instead will see people as people just like us- some still sitting in that murk, not needing our rhetoric and lectures and debates, but needing us to pursue and flesh out the kind of love Jesus has for them. I Corinthians says without love we are nothing. So, perhaps, maybe when put our attention on loving God and loving humans, and just focus on that, maybe then Love really will win.

This knowledge of how much we are loved, changes how we love. Because HE first loved us.


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