I was blessed to participate in a most stimulating church service this past Sunday. My children were unbelievably well-behaved and quiet, which meant that I was able to hear most of the sermon. This is unlike the previous Sunday’s service, where, after numerous trips to the bathroom, one child aimed a well-placed kick at another’s face, a third kept asking for gum or candy or something, and the fourth sat in sullen silence and read a novel through the entire hour.
This Sunday, it was as if they knew the whole service was about love, and they might receive some benefit if they allowed their parents some peace.
Yes, love. I suppose love is a fairly tired theme in many denominations or individual churches. My particular church, a Mennonite Church Canada member, spends a lot of time speaking about peace, social justice, Jesus, and the gospels, but not so much time speaking overtly about love. It’s assumed that love for God, love for the other, and above all, God’s motivating love, are behind all we do and urge on the push for peaceful and just relationships.
But I have been doing some thinking in the past number of months and finally came to this conclusion: what does it mean to love? Everything I see and hear (read: Hollywood and pop music) turns me off and leaves me hopeless. After all, I very rarely feel that intense, starry-eyed devotion for my husband or children that Hollywood deems love.
And how does one experience the love of God? I have only once in my life heard the voice of God speak audibly to me. I struggle with mild depressive symptoms fairly regularly. I often give my self-esteem a thrashing. I tend to see only what is negative. My relationship with God seems to consist mostly of head-things: thought, reading, discussion, writing. Love is meant to be also a heart-thing, right?
After the excellent sermon on scripture from 1 Corinthians 13, I was left with much clarified about how I should love others, but I was also left confused. Paul writes a scathing critique to the Corinthians but goes on to advocate the way of love in lofty terms. No matter how deserving the Corinthian church was of Paul’s harsh words, one still could not call them gentle, kind, or patient.
So where does that leave me, when I have something corrective or critical that must be said? The obvious answer is to be sure to say it carefully and considerately. I try to do that. The person receiving my words, however, doesn’t usually see my efforts. I feel as though I am hamstrung – what I have to say must be said, but I will be indicted no matter how I say them. I must admit that my current tactic, rightly or wrongly, is to shut up and hold it in for as long as possible. Perhaps I need to just say my piece and then immediately apologize for everything!
So, what is love’s role in this sort of situation? What do you do?