Each Sunday during my senior year of high school, I drove from the southern suburbs of Birmingham, Alabama, where I lived, into the roughest housing project in the city. I picked up ten-year-old “Peanut” from his apartment and together we canvassed his neighborhood on foot, collecting children from the streets and other apartments. As the only white person in sight, I got strange looks from the men leaning against streetlights. Each week I stood in the open doors of some of the worst of the worst apartments, those with bare, pockmarked concrete floors and walls, those that reeked with the smells of drugs, unwashed bodies, and neglect. I passed by the streets Peanut told me not to enter—they were the ”drug streets,” and not even the children who followed me would go down them. We ended up eventually at Peanut’s house, where his mother welcomed me and the little gang we’d collected into her living room. I taught a Bible lesson that those kids drank like Coca-Cola, and we bellowed songs like “Jesus Loves Me” and “Father Abraham.”
And then I left. Three hours, start to finish.
Not long ago I listened to a podcast on John 13:34-35: “… Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
The speaker’s point was this: Jesus didn’t say, “Love each other as I have loved the little girl I raised from the dead.” Or, “as I have loved the leprous guys I healed.” Or, “as I have loved the people I fed with those few loaves and fishes.”
He didn’t tell them to love in a “Here I’ve come to save the day,” “in-and-out,” “mission accomplished” sort of way.
His love example was the relationship He’d modeled with the twelve disciples: you know, those twelve guys He lived with day-in-and-day-out for three years; those self-centered, complaining, power-hungry, often-childish, squabbling-like-siblings disciples. They may have been on their best behavior for the first couple months, but I’m guessing it didn’t take long for that to wear thin. The Gospels give us one example after another of the disciples’ issues. Jesus lived with all of it, put up with all of it, and loved through all of it.
And that’s the kind of love He tells us to love with.
It’s not that difficult for me to tutor refugees and international students each week. It’s kind of exciting. I leave grateful.
But I come home to the six children who present the biggest love challenge I have: to love in the daily grind, through all their imperfections—and mine!, with all those fruits of the Spirit that I don’t naturally have. (Just last night I told my husband, “I’m too selfish to be a mom. What was God thinking?”)
This is “I Corinthians 13” love fleshed out.
I must admit, I prefer the in-and-out kind of loving. Two to three hours, a day, maybe a week or two—then I can say, “Whew, that’s over.”
But that’s not the love God’s called us to.
We are not called to a “quick fix,” easy kind of love. That’s not truly love. It’s described in I Corinthians 13:1-3 as “nothing.”
True love requires SO much of us.
It is patient and kind because it HAS to be.
It is not jealous or proud or rude or irritable even when there is certainly reason to be all those things.
It doesn’t demand its own way—even when no one else seems to be considering it.
It keeps no record of wrong.
It doesn’t rejoice about injustice.
It rejoices whenever the truth wins out.)
It never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
The disciples saw this kind of love firsthand, as Christ loved them even when they were petty and childish, even when they deserted Him.
After Christ left earth, the disciples had some difficult lives. But I am certain there was not a single time when they could honestly say, “This is way more difficult than what Christ did for us.”
That’s the kind of love I have to practice at home: the kind that takes practice, that often does not feel glorious or fun or exciting. Ultimately, it’s the kind that drops me to my knees with cries of “I can’t do this. I NEED YOU!”
This is also the kind of love that I have to learn to give to others outside my home. James echoes I Corinthians 13: 1-3 when he writes: “Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, ‘Goodbye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well’—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?”
My love for the “neighbors” God puts in my path and on my heart is meant to be like the love I practice with my family. It should cost something. It should be something I can’t do in my own strength.
This is not easy stuff. Christ’s command seems so simple, especially compared to all the rules we create with our religions.
But it’s a command that reduces us to the realization that we CANNOT do it.
What a good place to be.
Because the more difficult the loving, the greater the testimony to the God who is loving through us, the God who loves the least loveable—all of us—with a perfect, never-ending love.
“Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.
Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”