“Love one another, as I have loved you!”
What could be more basic for us as followers of Jesus, than to love?
Now, there are many ways of showing love. Parents set rules for their children to protect them – but the children certainly don’t feel loved when told it’s bedtime or that they can’t stay out after 9 o’clock. Love motivates us to do difficult work to feed our families, to change dirty nappies – or even to volunteer for the work of the church!
To be sure, love can go wrong. I once shared a house with a man who had a bad temper. We weren’t getting along very well, so I decided to make a peace-offering. He loved eating melon for breakfast, so when he went away for a week’s holiday, I made sure there was fresh melon in the fridge for his return. This did not have the desired effect. My gift was rewarded with a small explosion of anger – “That’s not the sort of melon I like, but now I have to eat it!” Truly, no good deed goes unpunished!
But do I regret what I did? Not at all. At the end of time, when all things will be made clear, he will understand that my gesture was meant as a peace offering and an act of love – and I will finally understand the pressures he was under at the time.
Showing love is always risky. Yes, we make ourselves vulnerable to rejection. Yes, we must guard ourselves against doing more than is appropriate in a particular relationship where our passions run high. But plainly and simply, Our Lord commanded us to love one another. The Greek word He used, agape, especially includes pouring out our strength for the good of others, seeking no return. If we give food to the Foodbank or send a donation to Ecuador, we have shown the highest form of love. But only within our closest relationships can we touch the heart of another in a way which brings lasting joy. Our motives will always be mixed – even Pope Benedict XVI commented that it was impossible to totally separate selfless agape from our own desires to love and be loved – but that’s OK, because it’s human.
Now, I’d like to offer you a few moments to reflect on loving and being loved. So please make yourself comfortable. Place your feet flat on the floor. Rest your hands. If it helps, close your eyes.
I’m going to invite you to call to mind five happy memories – different kinds, so I’ll guide you to each one. Take a few moments to remember what happened, who was there, and how you felt.
Here we go. Can you remember:
- A time when you were given a present which was very meaningful?
- A time when someone helped you with a task?
- A time when you enjoyed just being with someone whose company is pleasant?
- A time when someone said a kind word that left in you in no doubt that you were appreciated?
- A time when someone touched you in a loving way that made you happy?
All of these five things are ways that we can show another person that we love them. But for most of us, one or two of those ways stand out more strongly. Which of the five memories came to you most quickly? Which one was the strongest?
The one or two ways that work best for you are your dominant “love languages”.
Love isn’t only about feelings. But we all need to experience love. So one way of fulfilling what Jesus asks of us today is this: Let’s choose to be really good at communicating to the special people in our lives that we do love them.
The thing is, other people don’t always have the same “love language” as we do. When we’re busy, we fall into the trap of using the love language that works for us, to show affection to the other person. But if we really care about someone, we could take the time to learn what their love-language is. Even though we might find it uncomfortable, we can use that language to communicate with them.
If you’re married, you’ve promised to love that person for a lifetime. It’s OK to ask your spouse what communicates your love best. You might be surprised to learn that it isn’t what you’ve always assumed it was.
In other relationships, it’s not always comfortable to ask a direct question, but you could try to see what the other person does to show love most often. Chances are, that’s their love language. Try doing the same back to them and see what happens!
“Do unto others as you want others to do to you,” said the Lord. Would you like someone to learn how to appreciate you better? Then you must be a learner, too!