Love was arms wrapped tight around me on a cold, dark night. It was mom’s warm cookies with gooey centers on a rainy day, everyone scooting down to make room for me on the couch to watch a movie together, or a beautifully wrapped present with my name on it under the Christmas tree. When I was a child, I understood love to be everything that is beautiful and delightful and right.
My definition of love was innocent and naive.
A love that bleeds was incomprehensible. Pain, brokenness, and suffering were never words to be used in the same sentence as love. Maybe they could explain the absence of love, the loss of love, or unrequited love but NOT love as it is meant to be given and received.
At least, that is what I thought.
My dad and uncles would hunt for elk when I was young. We would spend a week in northern Idaho scouring the mountains for the meat that would last us through the winter. If someone in our camp got lucky, all the men would trek through the forest to help pack the animal out.
One year, they took me and my cousin with them. It was a long hike down the draw and up the adjacent mountain to find the bull elk. By the time we got there, I was exhausted.
Then we loaded down our packs with meat and started back. We were racing against the sun to reach camp before dark and there was little time to rest our tired muscles or oxygen deprived lungs.
The pain escalated. I started concentrating on one step at a time, willing each foot to put itself in front of the other. Stories formed in my head to distract myself from the burning sensation down my legs and back. My dad called out encouragement as he walked ahead of me. From time to time, he would stop and lift something off my pack and add it to his own.
By the time I made it back to my heavily blanketed cot, my body collapsed from exhaustion. The little backpacking trip that started out fun and exciting had taken all the energy I had, and more.
Love is like that. It starts out full of promise and adventure. No one would take the trip if it didn’t.
At some point, it become more difficult. It starts to demand more out of you then you planned on giving. Love starts to hurt.
Sometimes people turn back at this point. Sometimes they find a different trail that looks easier to navigate. Sometimes they sit down and refuse to go any further.
Regretfully, I have done every single one of those things with people I love. As easy as it is to quote and hashtag and lecture everyone else about, real love is hard to actually do.
Recently someone asked me why some keep going and other people give up. Is it a loss of perspective? We stop living in light of eternity. Is it a matter of pain tolerance? We can’t wrap our minds or hearts around a love that willingly suffers. Is it an obsession with comfort? We would rather have momentary happiness than long-lasting reward.
I am not exactly sure. All I know is that I don’t think I would have made it on that long backpacking trek as a young person if it hadn’t been for my dad.
He inspired me. His words encouraged me. And his example gave me something to follow.
Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls! Hebrews 12:1-3
Loving another person is hard work. Whether it is your spouse, your kids, your sister or brother, the person who voted for the opposite candidate as you, or the person who hurt you deeply.
All of us have more failures in this category than we care to admit. Our track record isn’t good. Too many times we have been quick to judge someone else’s character instead of examining our own. We have allowed someone else’s actions or inactions to dictate the strength and resilience of our love.
Thankfully, yesterday doesn’t have to repeat itself.
There is only one man who has ever loved perfectly. My prayer is that we would each be humble enough to admit we don’t know the first thing about love and let Jesus teach us what it means and how to actually live it out.
Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that. Ephesians 5:1-2
Our world needs more love. There will always be a shortage of warm, gooey cookies to pass around. But even more so, a love that keep going when it is no longer fun or easy. May it start with you and me.