This month I want to talk about love.
Because it’s February, and because Valentine’s Day is on Thursday. Because love is already on our minds (that, or the lack thereof). And it should be on our minds, always – but not the swooning, cupid-and-his-arrows, rom-com kind of love that dominates this month. The kind of love that should fill our hearts is more like this:
“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-39).
Jesus said “all the law and the prophets” hang on those two greatest commands. Doesn’t that sound like a sweet deal? I mean, there used to be 10 and now there’s just 2! And all we have to do is love!
But love isn’t easy. It’s hard. We know this about romantic love: once you get beyond the meet-cute and the infatuation, things get real. The same is true for our two greatest loves. During the retreat or the mission trip, loving God with our whole selves is easy! But in the regular, day-in-and-day-out, loving God first and most is a challenge. It’s not so different with loving our neighbors: it’s easy in theory, when we’re imagining friendly Wilson-like characters waving at us from behind white picket fences. But what about all those really annoying neighbors, the ones that walk across our yards without speaking to us after we’ve had a long, hard day at work?
Loving God and loving our neighbor is absolutely the best thing we can do with our hearts and lives – it’s what we were designed to do. But it’s also the hardest thing we can do with our hearts and lives. In order to love like that, we need to start at the right place, build on the right foundation.
And the right starting place, the solid foundation, is God’s love for us.
“But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).
Before we ever thought to love God… God loved us.
Before we ever tried to love our neighbor… God loved us.
This is the foundation that we build on.
I picked Romans 5 this week with verse 8 in mind – it’s a favorite of mine. But instead, another verse caught my eye that I hadn’t noticed before:
“…and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).
When God’s love fills our hearts, “hope does not disappoint us.”
Oh – and isn’t hope a big, heart-breaking part of love?
I remember the terrible hope of young love. My first crush was Johnny, the James Dean of our elementary school. When it came time to exchange Valentine’s Day cards in 4th grade, I wrote a teeny tiny “I [heart] U” on the interior of the envelope. I fretted over that for weeks. Did he get my message? (Probably not.) Did he like me back? (Probably not.)
My hope disappointed me.
In middle school, there was Zack. He was a step above my social status, and I knew it. We kind of hung out in the same circle but he was obviously cooler than me. As icing on the cake, he bore a slight resemblance to his namesake on Saved By The Bell. When he asked me out, I was very surprised but very happy. (Side note: we never actually went anywhere, so I’m not sure why we said we were “going out”…) I couldn’t believe that I got to say that Zack was my boyfriend! I enjoyed a blissful two weeks of doodling “MW + ZB” in my notebooks… and then I got wind that he really liked another girl.
My hope disappointed me.
So let me tell you what happens when hope disappoints a 7th grade girl: I mustered all my dramatic strength and orchestrated a preemptive break-up! Breaking up by note wouldn’t be good enough; this had to be done IN PERSON, and with an audience. So at just the right time when just enough people would be watching, I announced that I really liked a guy on the high school football team (totally plausible, given that I knew zero guys on the high school football team). Ha! I showed him!
But really – I doubt I showed him. I didn’t even show myself. It was a good stunt to pull with my friends cheering me on, but later that night when I was alone in my room I felt sad and even more disappointed. I’m not sure what the right response would have been, but telling lies and flashing attitude sure didn’t improve things.
But that’s what happens when our hope disappoints us. It becomes harder to love in healthy ways, or even to love at all.
Fortunately, that’s not the end of my love story. I went on to understand what it feels like when your hope for love does not disappoint you. Most notably in hoping for a guy named Alan – hoping over about 4 years of friendship, actually. And now, the love that I share with Alan doesn’t just not disappoint me, but continually exceeds my expectations. His love for me is constant and gracious and generous in a way that, frankly, amazes me. It’s a kind of love that makes it easier to love not just him… but other people, too. Because I know that I’m loved.
So here’s the natural temptation: to place all my hope in the love that I share with Alan. He’s proven himself more than worthy, after all. On top of that, most everything in our culture encourages us to place our hopes on one day meeting the love-of-our-life and getting married and living happily ever after. Culture tells us: that’s the hope that won’t disappoint!
But that’s not it.
While Alan and I like to joke that our marriage is perfect (because everything’s a competition…), no human relationship is truly perfect. You know that, right? Sure you do – especially if you’ve been married for 10, 20, 50 years or so. But maybe some of you are still wishing and waiting for the right one to come along in whom you can hope and not be disappointed.
If you’re doing that, let me tell you: You’ll be waiting a long, long time.
Yes: hold out for someone who amazes you. Yes: have high hopes for the person who might be your spouse. Don’t settle. Dream big, and go big in love! But that romantic love isn’t built to bear the weight of all your hopes. It will disappoint you from time to time.
What we need – what we all need – is a perfect love. A love that started long, long ago, before we ever did anything to deserve it – which means we never have worry that our first, timid little “I HEART YOU’s” will go unanswered. A love that can withstand all our worst mistakes – which means it will never leave us, not after two short weeks and not ever. That kind of love will never disappoint. That kind of love is designed to be our foundation.
This is that love:
“But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
God’s love is perfectly constant and gracious and generous. God’s love has always been and always will be. The challenge for us isn’t earning it or deserving it. It’s simply to accept it.
God loves you like that.
God loves YOU like that.
God LOVES YOU like THAT.
This month, you’ll be tempted to place your hope in a romantic kind of love. But romantic love isn’t built for that kind of heavy lifting.
Instead, place your hope in God’s love. God’s love will not disappoint you.
And may that undisappointed hope overflow in you… overflow to loving God and loving your neighbor, just as you were designed to do.