Challenges of Love
Five years… for some of you that might seem like a sprinkle of sand in the hour glass. But for me at least, that’s still a good length of time. You see, just about a month from now, Allison and I will be celebrating our fifth wedding anniversary. Whoever thought we would spend our first five years of marriage in Minnesota, and then get sent back to Washington for internship? God is funny like that.
I am thinking about this today, because I believe at the core of who we are and what we do, is love. All who love are born of God, and know God, because God is love as we just were reminded.
I think we know about how God loves us, but I think we forget to what deep extent we are loved. We are so loved, like Solomon writes that God wants us to, “Arise, and come away…” We are reminded too that “love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave.”
You might be wondering why on earth I chose this passage from Song of Solomon- well it chose me. It’s the preaching text for the first weekend in August when I preach next. Thanks to Pastor Fred I will get to potentially preach on racism (as I did last month) and sexuality this summer, which is a big part of the themes in Song of Solomon. I wonder, do you think Pastor Fred is trying to push me, or just laugh at his good luck for avoiding a couple important but somewhat tough texts and topics? Ah well, whatever the case may be…
In thinking about these texts, they speak to the beauty of love, but also especially the challenges of love. Love is not something simple, easily understood, or something always of peace. Sometimes love is complicated, and causes a little conflict in the short term, like finding out someone you love is moving (or perhaps that you will be moving).
Imagine you have a child who just got married and will be moving some distance away, kind of like the whole “come away” theme in the passage of the Song of Solomon reading. Would you be happy for your child? Or would you be a little sad? Perhaps you would be a little angry or grumpy with their new spouse or partner?
In our first year of marriage, I thought for sure that many in Allison’s family didn’t like me because we moved to Minnesota instead of staying in Washington. Why would we go to Minnesota for seminary when we could stay on the west coast some wondered? Of course, the part that wasn’t understood yet, it wasn’t me who moved us out here initially. It was Allison who found this to be the best opportunity for us for our first chapter together as a married couple. Five years later, I can say, my wife is a genius and I am grateful that we have been here in the Twin Cities. We have grown deeply together, and have had to endure many of the challenges of life on our own and love, which has brought us even deeper together.
Thinking about the other passage, this passage from 1 John is sometimes used by pastors and couples in the wedding service. It’s not often that you hear the whole complexity of the passage talking about the challenges of love though. This is the passage that Allison and I gave to our uncles to preach on for our wedding. As I speak and hear the text anew today I am reminded again of how that love is not something individual, but rather something to be shared, creating a great community of love.
It is easy to say “let us love one another,” here in the community that is the church. It is an entirely different thing to have boldness, and just as God is present in this world, so are we to be. This means that we are part of the world. This means that we are commanded to love our brothers and sisters in the world. This is a hard thing, to love those you sometimes struggle to get along with. I mean, if you use the sibling imagery of brothers and sisters, I imagine that at least when growing up there were times where you might not have gotten along with a brother or sister you might have? Perhaps you see that in your kids, nephews, nieces, friends or grandkids at times? You know, the sibling rivalry thing.
I think this is a work in progress for me. For example, I love my brother dearly, and at the ground of belief and of who we are, we share many of the same beliefs, ideals, and values. However, we go about things very differently in the way we do things, and that difference is often enough to drive us both a little crazy.
Imagine then how much harder it is for us to love those who always just seem to be yelling and saying that everything is going wrong with the world right now. Or, in the political arena, loving any politician as they toss the proverbial mud around on their fellow candidates and other leaders. Or, how can we love those who murder, rape and blow things up just because they either want to, or believe that they are called to by their faith? It’s really hard to love those people.
Yet, we have this commandment that we “must love our brothers and sisters.”
These are all the brothers and sisters we share as God’s created children and God knows them, though they may not know God. We have been given the commandment to love them and through that love to model what God’s love looks like and means. We have also been commanded and called to share our stories and understanding of what it means that God loves and that we are loved.
Long story short which you already know, God’s love is unconditional. God loves- period. Anyone who tells you otherwise, missed the point of the Gospel.
So, as I think about these challenges of love, I think that on the one hand we know about love and how to love. I think we also know that it’s not always easy to love- both those we don’t get along with, and even our partners and ourselves. We are often our own worst critics, which really puts things in perspective when we are commanded in the gospels to “love our neighbors as ourselves” doesn’t it?
Since I started by mentioning Allison’s and my fifth anniversary coming up, I suppose I should close with that. What have I learned in five years of marriage? That I am still learning, that I don’t always get things right, yet even when I mess-up Allison still loves me. I’m excited to see what happens when she is serving her internship and we spend our next year, our first year as a married couple, back in Washington. It will be different to be closer to family. It will be good on the one hand, but being closer to family can also be a challenge at times which I am sure you can all relate to.
We’ll see how it goes. But I am assured of this, I know how much Allison loves me, forgives me, and accepts me with all my faults, gifts, hopes and likes (some of which she certainly doesn’t share)… I am grateful for that.
I am also grateful and believe that, even though we all love and are loved deeply by many important people in our lives, God loves each of us that much more. You are loved because God says so. Amen.