I love the Chicago Cubs (I know, I know, but there’s no accounting for taste). What I love most is watching them at home in front of my TV. And it never fails: whenever I get to watching a really good game – a game where they actually stand a real chance of winning – my wife, Teresa, wanders into the room wanting to watch HGTV (I don’t know how many times she can stand to watch bathrooms and kitchens get remodeled, but I guess that’s a guy-girl thing). Now, we only have one TV in the house, so giving up that TV means that I am giving up the game. As simple as that sounds, it’s not always that easy, especially when she asks me in the bottom of the ninth in a tied game (and yes, this has actually happened).
I am fascinated by love and, I suspect, you are too. Whether in songs, books, musicals, or movies, the power of love is perhaps the most widely performed virtue in all the arts. In other words, it’s everywhere; and while it seems to surround us in virtually everything, it’s also the easiest to forget. I mean, most of the sins I commit are against those I love the best: my wife, my parents, my siblings, my friends. I don’t meet enough strangers, and frankly don’t care enough, to get too short with them. The little daily bickering, the impatience, the venting to a third party – these are all moments when I slip up in the path to love. And yet, who could forget the late Whitney Houston’s rendition of “I Will Always Love You”, which topped the billboards and captivated the hearts of people everywhere from 1992 and beyond? Or who hasn’t imagined being an Aladdin soaring through the clouds with his Jasmine on a magic carpet ride? Rapunzel was no stranger to love, even letting down her long locks of hair for her prince to climb. And we all know that it was love that moved the Beast to become handsome once again.
Love, it seems, is always in the air. But it is also confusing. For instance, it’s simply expected during a romcom like The Notebook (yes, it is my favorite movie: don’t judge) to hear phrases like, “Could you please pass a tissue?” Or, “I wish someone would do that for me.” Love can be confusing because it gets so easily entangled with and wrapped up in our emotions. And because there is such a strong emotional tug, it can be easy for us to equate love with that alone – and nothing else. The great temptation is to see love as nothing more than fuzzy feelings, googly eyes, and smiling princesses; but the tears of love are not always those of joy, and the red rose comes with a stem full of thorns. Love is real and true and good and can conquer all, and it does have everything to do with fairy tales and googly eyes and fuzzy feelings; but it also has to do with long days at work and late nights with snotty kids and with crabby teachers and unpleasant in-laws. When things are working right, love isn’t just for the radiant princess, but for the ugly stepsister, too.
The love which we Christians know in Jesus is something very different and much richer than the blissful feelings we listed above, though it certainly includes those, too. Putting that love into action, however, is not always easy, nor is it always fun. Love is difficult and love is hard and love is especially exhausting. Love demands sacrifice, often far beyond what we think we are capable of, and this demanding love costs us deeply. Romance novels and chic flicks use images of fancy dinners and beachfront vacations, late night conversations and early morning sunrises to convey the sense of two people being “deeply” in love. But the depth of love isn’t measured by how easy it is to watch a sunset together, but rather by how long you can stay up with the other when you’d really rather be asleep. It’s about listening to the same story for the ten thousandth time just because you know it’s important to them. It’s about picking up their dirty socks or cleaning out the last three days’ dishes, just because you love them. But that doesn’t look as good onscreen, and it’s a far less attractive picture than what we’re used to. This kind of love, though, whether it’s at home with your parents or in the convent at night, is what Mother Teresa was talking about when she said, “Love until it hurts.”
Understanding the culture’s take on love is important. Why? Didn’t I just say it’s all wrong? No, it’s not even a little wrong – it’s just incomplete. In order to sustain the fuzzy feelings and googly eyes, you’ve got to have some hardcore action to back it up. So yes, your parents can beam at their adorable children because they’ve changed your diapers, wiped your noses, and put you in time out. And spouses can write romantic poems and sing love songs and do all the rest because they have stayed up late at night listening to the other’s fears, putting to rest worries that can’t be fixed and healing wounds given long, long ago. It’s not that love has nothing to do with feelings, but that it’s not as simple as that. When Christ commanded his disciples to love the Lord God with all of their heart, soul, and strength, He wasn’t commanding them to spend lots of money on fancy dinners or to buy heart-shaped chocolates. Rather, He was commanding them to action; to something difficult, to something tough. He was commanding them, even as He commands us still, to put Him first in line in everything (the way we dress, talk, and treat our parents), no matter what the cost. This doesn’t mean just white-knuckling past our desires so that love has nothing to do with our emotions. Rather, it means training our emotions to better reflect what we know to be true. My love for my wife, my googly eyes and fuzzy feelings and hugs and kisses and all the rest are precisely what allow me to turn the channel and watch yet another bathroom get remodeled, even as my beloved Cubs vie again for the pennant. Because in this game, no matter how we all start out, if we succeed in love, then everyone comes out a winner.