34-35 “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.” (John 13:34-35 The Message)
A few nights before my wedding, some friends and I gathered together and spent a few hours gluing hundreds of tiny pieces of paper to hundreds of Hershey’s kisses. They were little party favors placed at each table. Printed on the tiny pieces of paper were quotes about love. Everyone had a different one. I had so much fun finding all those quotes. There were thought provoking quotes like one of my favorites from Toni Morrison when she said, “I didn’t fall in love, I rose in it.” There were cute ones like the one I chose from Winnie the Pooh which said, “It isn’t much good having anything exciting like floods if you can’t share them with someone.” There were words from poets – Oscar Wilde who said, “who, being loved, is poor?” and great leaders – Winston Churchill’s words to his wife when he wrote to her, “my greatest good fortune in a life of brilliant experiences has been to find you, and to lead my life with you.”
As I found these quotes and typed them up and then cut them into tiny slips of paper before my friends came over with hot glue guns in hand, it was a blessing to think about those words. To think about reflections of love – some romantic, some cute, some bittersweet, some courageous and to think about the love I had come to know in my own life.
Chad and I weren’t engaged very long. It was the end of April when he asked me to marry him as we sat at my kitchen table one evening. And we decided we’d get married at the end of July. My memories of the days and weeks before my wedding are some of my favorite. That summer it seemed like the weather was always perfect, every meal was the best meal, every song that came on the radio was one of my favorites, everything was happy and good. I knew I was living in the first bloom of love and I knew that love has many seasons…so I was going to just enjoy every minute of those quick days.
We are nine and a half years, two children, and about 1500 miles from that place and that summer now…and while I’m thankful for those first weeks and months of love’s first bloom, I’m much more thankful for the time that has passed since then. The sharing of life. In my memory it is a slide show of small and big moments: loading a moving van in New York, buying our first house, seeing our boys being placed in Chad’s arms after they were born, standing by the graves of Chad’s parents and then my father, loading a moving van again and seeing the mountains disappear in the rear view mirror and our arriving at our new home here. The seasons of our lives and the lives of the people we love unfolding all around us.
But that is how it is, isn’t it? Love. Some bits of it are about the romantic quotes, the sweet kisses, love’s first breathless bloom. But true love is something different. True love is what remains after the first bloom fades. True love is the companionship through good times and bad. True love is steady. True love is built over a lifetime, only really recognized through shared experience and achieving shared goals and continuing to choose each other. Continuing to care about the other’s cares. Continuing to listen to stories you’ve heard before. Continuing to keep building onto the village you’ve begun rather than leaving to start a new one. I think C.S. Lewis said it best, he said, “Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing…Love…is a deep unity maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habits reinforced by the grace which both partners ask and receive from God…On this love the engine of marriage is run; being in love was the explosion that started it.”
Our gospel for today talks about love. It tells us that love is not just a nice thing, but that it is something we are commanded to do. Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
It is a big commandment, because yes – it means those people whom we have vowed to love – our partners and children. Sometimes that can be challenge enough – to really love them with a life-giving kind of love. But this commandment doesn’t just mean we need to love those people closest to us – but to have real love for everyone we encounter.
What does this mean?
It means that everyone – you and me, and the college kids jogging down Cascade Avenue, and the homeless folks at the bus terminal, the person driving too slow in front of you, and that stranger on the sidewalk, and the one sitting next to you at jury duty – everyone we meet has unsurpassable worth. Everyone we meet, according to Jesus, is worth our time. Everyone we meet, according to Jesus, is so precious that Jesus died so that they could have a chance to live and breathe and love.
And so we treat each other with grace and goodness. And so we go out of our way to help the stranger. And so we risk our intricate schedules and let go of some of our fears to try to be the change we wish to see in this world. Because when we do, we will begin to understand love.
I believe in many ways that God has given me children so that I will learn something about this. Because I’m learning day by day that I can’t get too worked up about time or getting where I need to be too quickly when my children are with me.
I’ve told the following story a few times already in different settings so if you have heard it before please forgive me. But it is a good example of what I’m trying to say here.
It had been a long day. At four a.m. Jesse woke up crying. Wintery roads, a day of meetings, and a stunning headache had frayed my nerves. Soon, I could pick up my children from the church nursery and go home.
The phone rang – a parishioner in the hospital. I said I would go see him that night but inside I was nearly crying. I was so tired. Motherhood and Pastor-hood were both such blessings, but my blessings were exhausting me.
I decided to bring my toddler, Owen, with me to the hospital. We visited the fellow from my church and then Owen pulled me toward the cafeteria. He asked for some string cheese and I told him to find a table.
In a sea of empty tables, Owen plopped down at the one table that already had someone sitting at it. The elderly woman smiled at him over her cup of coffee. My heart sighed, the last thing I wanted to do was make small talk with someone. I just wanted Owen to eat his cheese and then we could get home.
But I sat down and as Owen ate his cheese, the woman and I talked and after a bit she told me she was at the hospital because her daughter was dying. In that empty cafeteria she told me about her girl. She clutched a tissue in her hand but she looked like she was too tired to cry anymore. She didn’t know I am a pastor but she poured out her thoughts right then and there to us. I listened, and I knew the moment was holy because Owen, who is always moving, didn’t move a muscle. He just sat there eating his cheese and considering the woman with his big blue eyes.
After a long while she said she had to go. But before she did, she reached out and touched Owen’s hand and said, “He’s precious.” I smiled.
As we drove home that night, I was still tired. It had still been a long day. But for that moment at least I remembered how beautiful it all is. Every evanescent second. And I was thankful that somehow Owen knew we needed to sit by that woman and hear her story that night. I’m glad his vision is still clear enough that he can recognize the things I’m often too busy or too blind to see.
Love. It’s about learning how to really see each other. And not turning away once we do. It’s about slowing down enough so that we have time for each other.
How might you be better at loving your partner ?
How might you be better at loving your children?
How might you be better at loving your co-workers?
How might you be better at loving the strangers you meet?
These are questions we all need to consider not because I asked them – but because Jesus is asking them of us all.
(written February, 2011 – First Lutheran Church – Colorado Springs, CO)