A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”John 13:34-35
Charity, or love, is the constant call in the Scriptures. God is love, and so we cannot know Him or serve Him without loving. And while our minds may know this, and hopefully our hearts, too, it is a fundamental principle that often challenges us daily if we’re striving for holiness and to love like God.
I remember a talk I heard at a youth conference years ago by Mary Beth Bonacci. It was about what she called “pizza love.” Pizza love is based on the idea that we use the term love so loosely, such as we love pizza (or morning coffee, hot showers, etc.) that the significance of the word and meaning of true love gets diluted. And often it does, because we are all broken, imperfect people.
The funny thing is if you asked my husband, he would tell you that I love pizza. Ok, so while I have a deep affection for pizza (HA!), it’s also semantics to some degree. For example, in the English language, we only have the one word, love, to apply across many different uses. But in Greek, and therefore in the Bible (as the first known translation of the Bible was into Greek), there are four types of love that we’ve discussed, which are: Eros: romantic; Phileo: deep friendship; Storge: family love; and Agape: divine, pure or self-sacrificing love.
I believe Storge, or family love, may be one of the most beautiful and challenging. We don’t get a say in what our family of origin is; God does. But with the Eros and Phileo loves, we at least have a choice in the matter of who we involve ourselves with romantically or in friendship. Some people will interject, “You don’t choose who you love.” And while biology definitely directs us towards attraction, love is actually a decision.
I’ll say that again—love is a decision.
Across every type of love that exists, we must choose it. Love is an act of the will. Hollywood and romance novels (multi-gazillion dollar industries) will make it about the “Universe” or kismet or happily ever after and build it up a false idol of emotion that often involves falling, breaking, winning, and sexual desire and activity. While love definitely does involve emotions and aspects of those elements, it’s counterfeit if that’s all we proclaim or embrace it to be. Because God is love.
And what has God told us love, or HE, truly is?
Love is patient, love is kind.
It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated,
it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails.
If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease;
if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing.
For we know partially and we prophesy partially,
but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away…
So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.1 Corinthians 13:4-10,13
I once went to Confession, where my penance was to read that passage and then re-read it, inserting my name where “love” was to see where God was calling me to grow. Talk about a real quick humility lesson because “Lisa is patient” killed it, HA! Give it a try, though; it’s enlightening.
A few core aspects that charity requires came to mind from a post Danielle wrote with a quote from St. Teresa of Calcutta that’s been ruminating in my heart. It’s about how we’re called to place ourselves at God’s disposal, “You can do whatever you like.” There exists complete trust and humility, confidence, and docility towards God. You are for me, not against, and I’ll let you lead. Basically, “Father, love through me, however you like.” And while there is a beauty there, there is a cost – as real love involves sacrifice and pain. Which, as humans, we do not want.
To love is to risk not being loved in return…To hope is to risk pain…To try is to risk failure. But risk must be taken, because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing. The person who risks nothing does nothing, has nothing, and is nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn, feel, change, grow, live, or love.”Leo Buscaglia
So, why must there be a cost when we love?
As Christians, we need only to look at the cross to see the risk, pain, suffering, and sorrow. The paradox of love that was betrayed, beaten, humiliated, abandoned, and hung from a tree. So that we could be set free.
Intellectually how does that even make sense? But spiritually, God shows us the way as we walk and trust and try to love in our imperfect ways.
Christ did all that, but I can’t love my Grandma/cousin/Mom?
Or I don’t want to invite “those” people (relatives) because they did ‘XYZ’ seven years ago.
Or I’ve got my list of “more important” things to do, so good luck with your needs, Pops…
Christ shows us that if love is self-seeking, it’s not authentic. If we are not willing to lay it down for others–letting go of our will, our plans, our egos, our agendas–then we are simply not loving as we are made to love. And while we all fall short of the glory of God, if we call ourselves Christians, then we have given our lives over to follow him. Part of growing as disciples actually involves making mistakes. We fall, get up and try again. And repeat, praying that as we grow in discipleship, we “fail faster”, or fail forward. We must do this while bearing in mind what God said the most important commandments were:
You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.
This is the greatest and the first commandment.
The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”Matthew 22:37-40
Notice the order in the “chain of love.”
1) Love God with everything in you.
2) Love your neighbor, but as you love yourself.
So, loving God, loving yourself, and loving your neighbor. And loving your neighbor (which would include your family, FYI) is actually found eight times in the Bible, not just once. Lord knows we need to be reminded of this one because it sounds great until it’s not. And that is usually when we’re tested by charity.
Enter that “needy” person in class/work or at home. What does he or she want or require now? Why can’t he or she get his/her act together? Or can’t him/her or someone else take care of whatever is cropping up now – I’m busy!
I say it because I live with the struggle against all of this, too. Every day. We all do. Our training in love starts when we’re born, but we absorb it – it’s not like we take a class at school for it (unless you’re Leo Buscaglia, who I quoted earlier, known as “Dr. Love” who taught a “Love Class” at the University of Southern California). Charity begins at home, in how we’re taught and how we live it.
It starts with what we see modeled in our families. How do our parents interact with each other, us, our siblings? How do we interact with our siblings? How do we engage with our relatives? When we speak, how does it come across with our tone, language choice, and do we make eye contact? Are we a “touchy-feely” family, or not? Do we make time to be truly present to one another, or are we often distracted with tasks, responsibilities, or phones, video games, and streaming shows?
The four loves all require something of us and will likely give us something in return. But if getting back is our intention when it comes to love, we will be left abominably disappointed and heartbroken throughout life. And while true love does still disappoint and break us at times, as so happens in life, it also extends beyond those instances. Christ showed us that in His Resurrection, when He conquered death, sin, and everything else that put Him on the cross. See—love does WIN!
So how will you love today, friend? Put yourself at His disposal, and He’ll let you know how.