I’ll never forget the first time I went to a Methodist Church. I was spending the summer in Bastrop, Texas, helping my aunt and cousins do some renovations on their house. I had grown up in a Southern Baptist home, so I had always been a little suspicious of the Methodists. The Methodists I knew didn’t even take their Bibles to church on Sundays, and that was before it was cool to project the scripture up on the wall. I used to think, “When my aunt really gets saved, then she’ll be a Baptist.” That was just kind of how we thought.
But I was in my early 20s myself, and was kind of coming to a meaningful place in my own sojourn where I was starting to see Christianity for what it is, not what I had picked up from just watching the crowd of hypocrites (myself included) we call the church – that was the part where I reasoned like a child and saw things only dimly.
So when I walked into this tiny little Methodist Church in the Middle of Texas, I didn’t know what to expect other than thinking “this is probably a cult or something.” But there was a banner hanging from the side of the choir loft. I don’t remember what the pastor actually spoke on that day, but that banner has stuck with me for 12 years now. In bold white letters against a crimson background: “Love is a verb.” I think I stared at that banner for just about the whole hour (probably why I don’t remember the sermon…). I was trying to figure it out, trying to understand what it meant, both theologically and personally.
As sad as it was that I was 21 already, this was the first time I had been struck by this notion: Love isn’t just a feeling, and most of those couples that hear that 1 Corinthians 13 passage on their wedding day have no idea what they are getting themselves into.
I know some of you are married, and many of you have kids. So unless you are really a Disney Princess, or Uncle Phil from Fresh Prince you should be able to relate to what I’m talking about.
I know it drives my wife absolutely nuts. Whenever we are having a little squabble, I always say “I love you.” I usually say it as a non-sequitur, which is probably what really drives her bonkers. We’ve talked about it many times, and I know her first instinct is that I’m saying that just to gloss over her feelings and to breeze through the hard parts of the conversation to the happy resolution. I know I need to work on being a better listener and I’m terrible as a conflict and confrontation avoider, even when I am the one that initiates the conversation. (By the way, this marriage advice has not been approved by anyone)
But the reason I say it is because it helps me re-frame my thinking. I have to say that I love her because in that moment, when one or both of us is angry with the other, I don’t feel particularly in love with her. That’s the turning point for me – when I call these things back to mind that I know to be true. That’s when I remember that “Love is a Verb,” and to love her is to treat her as if I love her, even when it is all I can do to conjure up those three little words to say.
This past summer has been really hard for me. I would hate to admit this to a couple of my professors, but there have been days that I’ve ignored their urgings for self-care. There are even days when – GASP! – please don’t judge me – I am unable to write in my journal for an hour! The baby’s crying, the toddler is toddling, the dogs are barking, and my wife is making kale smoothies in the blender before she leaves for work – there’s noise all around. Sometimes, I’ll have a moment of quiet and check Facebook, only to find another asinine political statement, or worse, a cellphone video and a hashtag from the night before.
My heart is shattered. On a daily basis.
The world is just filled to the brim with bad stuff, and my life and my neighborhood are uniquely positioned to seemingly have just about all of it overlap my day somehow.
If God loves me with this action word, and has a special plan for my life, why does the news often read like an obituary? Why does a drive through my neighborhood sometimes feel like a funeral procession? Why does the screaming of sirens and police helicopters sound like a funeral dirge?
If to love is to make oneself vulnerable, we can’t be shocked when our heart is broken. We weep and mourn our pain and the brokenness in ourselves and in our world.
From Lamentations 3:21 and following:
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
When all the prisoners of the land
are crushed under foot,
when human rights are perverted
in the presence of the Most High,
when one’s case is subverted
—does the Lord not see it?
“But” is one of the prophets’ favorite words. It symbolizes an alternative, something different than the totalisms of the world. In this passage, Jerusalem has been desolated; the best and brightest have been drug to Babylon and only the remnant remains. The Temple is in ruins and the walls have been torn down. We know the story.
God made some promises to Jeremiah, so he bought some land. God’s love hadn’t changed, and God’s love hasn’t changed.
We remember our long story. 4000+ years of history. We call this to mind and we have hope. We remember that love is a verb, and when the scriptures say the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; we know this to be true. We have seen it over and over and over again. Every week we relive the pain of Friday and the hope of Sunday. My heart breaks anew every morning, and I have to call these things to mind that I know to be true.