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Love is a Verb
by Karen Burkhart
My heart sunk. There it was in black and white in my son's essay: "Love is a feeling." How could he have gotten something so important so wrong? I wondered. I knew there was only one answer: I had neglected to teach him the whole truth about love. Sure, I had modeled unconditional love in action every time I forgave an offense, hugged him during a mood, or looked after him through an illness, but somehow that wasn't enough to offset the steady stream of messages from movies and media that told him that love is passive, rather than active. I knew I had some work to do.
Today's Bible reading offers a good place to learn about real love. The passage begins with: "Don't just pretend to love people. Really love them."
Those opening lines seem to provide the foundation for what follows in the section, which in some Bible translations is given the heading, "Marks of a Christian." No doubt, love is the ultimate sign of being a Christian. Jesus said, "Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples. (John 13:35)"
So how does the apostle Paul say we are to really love others? Well, on the "to do" side, there are many calls to action--like weep with those who weep and be ready to help those in need. On the "things to not do" side, there is guidance like never be lazy and don't be too proud to associate with ordinary people. The list can seem a little daunting; there are a lot of things to keep in mind.
Sandwiched in the middle of these instructions are three that at first glance may seem unrelated to loving others: "Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying" but there's a connection. You see, doing these things changes us and spills over to those near us. For example, when I choose to rejoice in my hope for salvation, I live above my present circumstances which may cause others to take notice and enquire about the hope that is in me. When I take the long view and am patient in trouble, my family is spared from spiraling with me into despair. When I pray instead of worry, I gain peace and take it with me into all my interactions with others.
For someone like me who is very attuned to my own feelings (just ask my husband), it can be hard to not allow them to lead me, but if I want to really love people, I must resist. It's been said that feelings make a wonderful caboose, but a lousy engine. How true that is! Our lives should be driven by an unwavering commitment to unchanging truth, not our feelings. True love may very well involve wonderfully warm feelings but those aren't prerequisites for action. The call to love in action goes out continually through the highs and the lows of all our emotions
Turn again to today's Bible passage and as you read through it slowly, prayerfully consider what one or two actions you could do to demonstrate real love to someone today. Some possibilities may be:
Send a note of congratulations to someone who is rejoicing.
Call a friend who may be experiencing a loss and let them cry.
Invite a neighbor to share a meal with you.
Pray a blessing on someone who is making your life difficult.
Lord, help me to embrace the truth about real love and begin to really love people with my actions. When I feel down, help me to not stop serving the people you gave me to love. When I'm tempted to love people only superficially, help me to be willing to go deeper even if that means things getting messy. Lord, thank you for being the perfect example of how to really love. Thank you for giving me your Holy Spirit who continually empowers me to do what I could never do on my own. In Jesus' name, Amen.