In two days it will be Valentine’s Day here in America and in other countries around the world. Love is in the air, and much like Christmas is to me, I love looking at all the Valentine decorations that are in stores everywhere, and I even bought myself a tiny box of chocolates (only three pieces–the only amount I’m safe with) with a pic of Snoopy and Woodstock on the cover.
The expression of love almost defies definition, and it can mean different things to different people. It can be disguised as lust (e.g., sexual attraction), or as the ultimate sacrifice, as in laying down one’s life for their friends or their country. It can be tossed around tritely, as in “I just love my new car,” or, in my case, “I just love chocolate,” or it can be deeply felt, as in love for a parent, spouse, or children.
Dictionary.com defines love as “a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person” (quote source here). And in the opening words to the song “The Power of Love” sung by Huey Lewis and The News (YouTube video below) love is described like this:
The power of love is a curious thing
Make one man weep, make another man sing
Change a hawk to a little white dove
More than a feeling that’s the power of love
Love can turn enemies into friends; it can mend a broken heart; it can change a life overnight; it can heal the deepest wounds. Love isn’t cheap or easy and it costs us everything, and it puts self in second place. It makes mush out of emotions, and words to describe it seem totally inadequate. It can hurt and it can heal. And as another verse in the song mentioned above states:
First time you feel it, it might make you sad
Next time you feel it it might make you mad
But you’ll be glad when you’ve found
That’s the power makes the world go ’round
Love does make “the world go ’round.” But, as a popular song back in 1965 stated: “What the world needs now is love sweet love, that’s the only thing that there’s just too little of” (quote source here–song title: “What the World Needs Now”–lyrics by Hal David and music composed by Burt Bacharach, sung by Jackie DeShannon and later by Dionne Warwick).
Love is in very short supply in this world of ours. Wars and rumors of wars, conflicts, terrorism, power struggles, hidden agendas, jealousy, and hatred abound both on a grand scale and on a much smaller and much more personal scale such as in our homes, work places, and in our relationships with others. And often in our quest for an ever better lifestyle, we trample others in the dust and end up with a life totally void of love, except perhaps the love for possessions or money and all it can buy (including people). And that kind of love destroys everything it touches.
Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast,
it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others,
it is not self-seeking,
it is not easily angered,
it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil
but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts,
always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
But where there are prophecies, they will cease;
where there are tongues, they will be stilled;
where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
For we know in part and we prophesy in part,
but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.
When I was a child, I talked like a child,
I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.
When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror;
then we shall see face to face.
Now I know in part; then I shall know fully,
even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of these is love.
As I read through that list, I realize how far short I fall many times as I’m making my way through this life. When I’m mad at someone, I’m not often kind (whether it is said verbally or I just keep it to myself). And after almost five years of unemployment, I can still be easily angered by my situation and the folks who caused it. And I am weary beyond words after being unemployed for this long with still no end in sight. And, of course, trust is a major issue of mine right now. There is very little of it left to give out to anyone.
We all have our lists of failures (usually ongoing and unresolved) when it comes to that list regarding the attributes of genuine love. Self gets in the way all too often, and it trips us up every single time. We can confuse love with a lot of other things, which ends up not being love at all. Let’s look at the first three verses in I Corinthians 13 that often get overlooked when reading over the list of attributes for what genuine love looks like. Those three verses tell us often what we don’t want to hear:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels,
but do not have love,
I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I have the gift of prophecy
and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge
and if I have a faith that can move mountains,
but do not have love,
I am nothing.
If I give all I possess to the poor
and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,
but do not have love,
I gain nothing.
So often it is in the stuff that we do that we try to prove to others and to ourselves that we have love (or if nothing else, that we can try to manipulate them in some way). Yet these verses tell us that nothing we do means anything without real, genuine love being attached to it. And if we do not have real, genuine love for others–the selfless kind of love mentioned in verses 4-13, we have failed. Period. And it doesn’t matter how smart we are or how good we are at what we do or how much money we make and/or give to people in need or organizations or even if we have the kind of faith that can move mountains or are martyred for our faith. Without love, none of it matters.
None of it matters . . . .
And that’s a hard pill to swallow. Our pride gets in the way of it (at least I know mine does). There is something about going through hard times especially when they just don’t seem to end that can make one hard and reactive instead of soft and submissive. I vacillate between the two most of the time after five years of this struggle with unemployment. I’m sure you have your own examples in your life, too. It’s that constant struggle of being “between a rock and a hard place.” And I want a third option–I don’t want to be between either anymore.
But the third option turns out to be the hardest . . . loving those who hate us or abuse us in some way. The urge to strike out is so powerful that the only remedy for it is love–real, genuine love. And that only comes from one place. And it’s not in us, either.
It comes from God through Jesus Christ:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. ~John 3:16-18
Apart from Jesus Christ, real genuine love is unattainable no matter how hard we try. It requires sacrifice, and that is something we humans are not very good at. We are so busy trying to protect ourselves and always “looking out for #1” that any love we think we have for others blows away in the wind. It’s fake, and has self at it’s core.
Jesus clearly stated in Matthew 5:44-45:
But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
I often find myself wanting to fight with my enemies instead of loving them. I rail against them because often I don’t understand why they are my enemies in the first place and it is the only way I know how to protect myself. Evil is very real in this world of ours and most of the time we have no explanation for it other than it exists. Terrorism comes to mind as an example of hatred that has no apparent reason, at least to us. Yet to fight against an unnamed evil in others is like fighting against that same wind I mentioned above that also blows the love out of our life. We are barely even good at loving our friends let alone our enemies. And if we continue to hold on to the list of wrongs done to us by others we destroy any possibility of experiencing real, genuine love for others, including our enemies.
Indeed, it is a hard pill to swallow . . . .
But shallow it we must, if we ever hope to experience real, geniune love . . . the kind of love that can turn the world–our world–around. And apart from Jesus Christ, we cannot do it. He is the One who has shown us the way.
Love isn’t easy, and it doesn’t come in a box of chocolates. It comes from hard work and from resisting the urge to retaliate no matter what. Real, genuine love can be cruel (Jesus Christ went to the cross), and it is selfless. It is also life-saving.
The chorus in the song, “The Power of Love,” goes like this:
You don’t need money, don’t take fame
Don’t need no credit card to ride this train
It’s strong and it’s sudden and it’s cruel sometimes
But it might just save your life
That’s the power of love
I don’t know what you are going through in your life, but if you’ve reached the point that I have reached, there is only one option left . . .
And I’m taking that third option . . . .
How about you?
YouTube Video: “The Power of Love” (1985) by Huey Lewis and The News: