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do you love me

Now that I can dance… No, I’m kidding. This isn’t about dancing. But I have been thinking a lot about how someone knows they are loved. How do you KNOW it – down to your toes?

I’ve been watching people loving on my mother-in-law and us, her family, during the loss of her mom. I am always so pleased to see God’s people doing what I expect them to do, provide for each other and encourage each other, always, but especially in times of need and grief. People stop by with plates of food – food is maybe the ultimate expression of care, isn’t it? – and thoughts and prayers. Offers of help, taking out the trash, picking up groceries, dropping off more food are all expressions of love and care.

I think about how there are people in the world who say they love you, but it begs the question – How? HOW do you love me? It’s easy enough to say, but is it defined in some way that inherently requires effort and sacrifice on your part? Can I say I love you and never DO anything for you?

I mean the opposite is certainly true. I can do a lot of things for you but never actually love you. I can spend my whole life bringing you casseroles but not because of love. I can do it because that’s just what nice people do. I can do it because that’s what my mama did. I can do it to show off what a great cook I am – although if *I* did it, it would show the opposite. I can do it because I think I’m earning YOUR love, for whatever self-centered reasons I may have to want to earn such a thing. But maybe I want you to love me first as a necessary step to me loving you. I don’t want to love someone who doesn’t love me back. What’s the point of that?

For some teenagers, and maybe just some personality types not all teens, it seems like they are starting to figure this out. All along their parents have been doing stuff for them. Maybe their parents are good about telling them they do it because they love them, but maybe their sense of obligation has been overworked, or, not unrelated, their sense of responsibility and duty. Have you ever caught yourself saying something to your kids like I don’t want to do this, but I’m doing it because I love you? There’s a difference then between wanting to do something and loving someone. Don’t you in some way have to want to do something in order to do it? Like there is an overriding desire for an outcome or a purpose in said action that compels you to do something that may otherwise be undesirable? And maybe saying “I don’t want to” isn’t really what we mean. I want to do this thing because I love you and I know it will benefit you, even though the action is not my first choice of activities right now. And then that thing becomes desirable to us. Don’t I end up enjoying doing something, even if it’s when I’m finished doing it, because I know that it was a good thing and that I made someone I care about happy or better off in some way?

The hope is that our kids start doing things, not because they want to or even because someone asked them to, but because they see that it needs to be done, that someone else would be pleased by it and that in the end everyone wins but act of kindness and service.

And I think that in some ways this is the beginning of understanding the faith v. works relationship, that we are not earning love and salvation, nor can we. But once we have tasted love, once our eyes have been opened to see this great salvation, the indescribable gift of grace, we are compelled and driven to act on it, to live it out, to enjoy it, and to work towards increasing its reach, for ourselves and for those around us.  It’s no longer a duty to act love out. It’s a natural, mature expression of the love we have come to know and ingest and breathe. It pulses through our veins and replenishes our hearts, minds, souls, blood and bones.

So when we say what the world needs now is love, sweet love, I can’t think of anything truer. But we need real love – not the lip service we so often do. Not the love that flashes in a pan and bolts when it gets too tough. Not the love that caters to egos or demands “equality” (which, by the way, is often not really a demand for equality at all, but a demand for superiority and narcissistic entitlement). We don’t need more hollywood love which is some form of lust mixed with a general willingness to test out if it’s actually made for the long haul or just an experiment, and also bails when it turns out that the only fun thing about it is the sex. And we don’t need people telling us they love us when we can’t really point to anything that definitively supports that statement/sentiment when we need it most.

Saying love hurts seems too simplistic, but it certainly isn’t untrue. Love is inconvenient. Love is a downright pain in the patootie sometimes. There are days when those you love the most are the most ungrateful, self-centered nitwits you know and you would rather smack them upside the head then bake them their favorite cookies. But love makes cookies and casseroles even when the recipients least deserve. If you only did it when they deserve it, it isn’t really love. It’s some trumped up version of love. It’s the same version as the hollywood one that ebbs and flows and dries up in its season.

This is love that I lay down my life. I put it all down. I put aside my preferences, my petty grievances. I stop looking for the things that annoy me. I put an end to my selfish navel gazing. I stop thinking of things I want to say and start listening, really listening, to others. I give up my sense of entitlement to a cushy, pretty, comfortable life. I stop thinking that that’s some kind of goal in the first place. I start thinking that whoever loses everything is the closest to the kingdom. I win people over, not with my position or title, not my smooth words or polished appearance, not my hand shaking and baby kissing politics, but by my genuine love and care for their souls. I learn to love at great risk to myself. I learn to let go of my self altogether – and not in the Elsa way which is really just another form of narcissism. I learn to need less, live on less, want less, obsess about less. I give up of my resources – time, effort, money, comforts – from sitting in the least comfortable chair in the room to cleaning up a mess that I didn’t make. And I do it all not to earn love, but to show that I *AM* loved and this is what it looks like to act as one who knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am fully known and fully loved.

The beauty of real love as it matures is that the pain and inconvenience at any given moment isn’t weighed out any more. We aren’t gauging whether or not something is worth it any more. We know it is. We know that kind of love that makes everything worth fighting for. We know that there is no way to replace real love. We have learned, sometimes through our own terrible choices and sinfulness, that we can so easily trade in counterfeit, lesser loves for the real thing and that those others will never satisfy us. We know that any pain in real love is met over and over and over again with grace beyond measurement and beauty beyond description, because it is purposeful, it is useful, it is making us more glorious. And this love has no limits. Why would you want a love with limits? Why do we put limits on our love and on the love we give or receive? If you have been touched and known real love, divine love, you would never again settle for anything less. And you would make sure everyone you know gets a taste of that kind of love too.

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