“See the kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” ~1 John 3:1
“Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see the glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” ~John 17:24
“The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one as we are one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” ~John 17:23
I was 24 years old before I had my first boyfriend. For 24 years I had an idea of what love was. But I had never actually experienced it, not in the context of choosing another human and intentionally nurturing love between myself and them. For lack of real life experience, I spent a majority of those first two decades of life imagining love as something fairly passive. Of course I believed that we would serve each other out of love. But I didn’t fully understand the act of service and sacrifice that choosing love itself could be.
I remember so clearly the distinct moments in our relationship where I was faced with a choice: Will I choose to love this man, or will I choose to leave him in the hopes I find someone easier to love? Perhaps that sounds cruel, but it was real and necessary. We were dating for marriage, not to pass the time at the risk of breaking another person’s heart. At the revelation of a character flaw, personal struggle, or difficulty that would arise in our specific relationship was an opportunity to say, ‘This isn’t what I want to sign up for.’ But each time one of those opportunities came around, it drove me deeper into my communication with the Lord. You see, at the end of the day I can’t predict the future. I can’t fully determine if the person I love at the moment will become a spouse who leads and guides our family according to God’s word. I can’t guarantee that our relationship will or won’t face certain trials and struggles should we choose to marry. But God can. He knows all and he knows us completely. Man looks at the outward appearance but God sees the heart.
So each time I was faced with new information or a worrying realization about my relationship with my then boyfriend, I took it to the Lord. I prayed for peace to keep pursuing love or strength to let it go. When peace came, then came the hard work: choosing love. Because love in these moments simply couldn’t be passive. It had to be an active choice on my part. A conscious step towards the one person on earth that had the absolute most potential to hurt me. But each time I chose love there also came a greater joy. A greater knowing of a person who had already meant so much to me, and the understanding that we were in each others lives by choice and through grace and forgiveness. I finally began to understand those couples who talk about how they love each other so much more 10 years later than on their wedding day. It isn’t because they’ve become more attractive or life has gotten easier. It’s because love comes from hard work, from suffering, from trials and difficult situations. It is a choice to first carefully and intentionally cultivate love in the mind before it ever reaches the heart. Oftentimes it even goes against our very nature as sinful humans: it requires selflessness, humility, forgiveness, and more grace than we without God could ever give. But if I have every kind of human gift and have not love, what good does my life actually serve?
It may have taken me 24 years and my first serious relationship (which has since ended) to learn this lesson on how to love. But it won’t take me another 24 years or until my next relationship to live by it. You see, finally understanding this active love has helped me comprehend more fully how I should relate to God. It made me see that with Him too I have to make the choice. I have to take a risk on Him: reading his word when I think I don’t have time, asking for his help when I’m sure he’ll say no, telling others all the good things about him when I fear their rejection or have doubts in my own heart. But with each choice to love, he draws me deeper in to knowing him. And I know that he will never let me go.
And perhaps the greatest part of all is that it also showed my how intentionally active God’s love is for me. But I’ll tell you that story next time. 🙂