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“What is true love?”

An essential question I posed to my 9th grade students as they prepare to read Romeo and Juliet. For a warm-up exercise, I wrote “LOVE” on the board and asked them to write about it in whatever way they interpreted it. When the ten minutes of writing time exhausted, many of them asked to share their responses. Some of them were heartbreaking. Young girls broke into tears as they breathed life into their words:

“Love doesn’t exist; only pain and misery.”

“A boy only tells you he loves you to get in your pants, and then he leaves you.”

“I don’t know what love is.”

“I’ve never seen it before.”

One of my boys blew me away with an amazing extended metaphor, but still revealed a sadness that I believe should only be present in the absence of love. He said, “Love is like the ocean. Some people find enjoyment in it, some people are afraid of it, and some people are so far submerged beneath it, they are left gasping for air.”  He then adjusted his thick, black-rimmed glasses and concluded, “I always go unnoticed, so I stopped looking for love a long time ago.”

An exercise which I thought would produce various theories and understandings of love actually revealed a common misconception of it: “Love is something you hold on to because people will only hurt and damage it.”  Out of the 20 or so kids who shared, only one referenced God as a “type” of love. None of them articulated that God is Love, and more shockingly, a vast majority of my students attend church regularly and are actively involved within their church’s community. I began to ask myself all kinds of questions. “Who is dropping the ball?” Who is responsible for failing to teach our kids about the Father of Love?” Simple answer: we all are. Everyone who claims to be a disciple of Christ and yet can’t seem to love everyone with the same intensity he finds to love himself is guilty of perpetuating the lie that love is dangerous, painful, and unnecessary.

The next day my morning scripture came from I John 4:20 “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that love not his brother, whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?”  The very next day, by divine intervention or some glitch in the “random scripture generator”, I was sent I John 4:21: “And this commandment have we from Him, that he who loveth God love his brother also.” These two scriptures connected to the one had I received three days earlier, Romans 13:10: “Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: Therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” I began to draw connections throughout my notebook and concluded that my bible app was trying to send me a message: This is a love thing.

Our relationship with Christ is not predicated on being “good” in our own eyes. It’s not about how many days we spend in church or how many times we shout “Amen!” while we are there. This is a love thing! We are commanded to love Him with our whole selves: mind, heart, and soul and to dedicate our bodies to him as a living sacrifice. If we are walking in this truth, our actions will support it. We are also told to love our neighbor in the manner we love ourselves. To bestow upon him the same mercy we would so easily give ourselves. Many of us struggle in our relationships with others because of unforgiveness, bitterness, approval, covetousness, and other root issues which reveal a misunderstanding or misuse of love. We struggle with the second commandment because we don’t truly walk in the first.

I encourage all of us to get into a quiet place and ask ourselves a tough question, “Do I love You as much as I profess?” I am almost willing to bet many of us do not. I mean if we loved God, truly loved Him with everything within us, it would not be so hard to forgive, to pray unceasingly, to lay all of our burdens and distractions at his feet, to be obedient when He tells us to do things that make us uncomfortable, to give our last to a stranger on the street. We are all broken and that brokenness as affected our ability to love Him as He has asked which in turn, affects our ability to show love to one another.  Let’s examine the fruit of love in our lives today. Is it badly bruised? Overly ripened? Sickly sweet? Picked at perfection? In regards to our journey with Christ, some of us are not really as close to Him as we want to believe as a result of holding back our love. Give love today. Send an encouraging note to someone who hurt you. Hug someone who offends or uses you. Love your enemies as well as your friends; this is how you show the world that you belong to Christ. It’s a love thing.