At the suggestion of a friend, I’m reading Tim Keller’s “The Meaning of Marriage.” It is as much for unmarried or single people as it is for the married, because while his central points relate specifically to marriage, he speaks more broadly of love and how we relate to others.
One of the points that resonates with me the most is that love, while it can be an emotion, is moreso a verb. In marriage, parenthood, deep friendships, and so many other relationships, we have to actively choose to love the other in front of us. According to Keller, at it’s essence love is “sacrificial commitment to the good of the other.”
Re-envisioning love as an sacrificial action certainly has it’s implications, but I started thinking about it from a unique vantage point. I’m coming off of another summer with YouthWorks where I witnessed dozens of staff arrive to an unfamiliar communities, each with their own unique but prevalent struggles, that most people at worst look down upon and avoid, or at best innocently overlook. Staff repeatedly fall in love with these communities.
But why is that? Why do our staff come to love communities that they sometimes get very little in return from? A year ago I wrote a blog about how I thought it was because staff choose to see (or are forced to see) the good in their communities. But now I think that there is more going on here.
Keller makes several interesting points that actions of love lead towards feelings of love, regardless of whether the feelings were initially there or not. And regardless, we have a far greater ability to control our actions than we do over our emotions. We can actively choose to act in love towards someone or something, and that enables feelings of love.
Keller really drives this point home in the way he talks about a parent-child relationship. He says:
“Think, for a moment, how different a parent’s relationship is with a child. If you have a child, you will find that the Biblical pattern of love is forced on you. Your new child is the neediest human being you have ever met. She needs your care every second of the day. twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. You make enormous sacrifices in your life, and yet the child, for a very long time, gives nothing in return…After eighteen years of this, even if your child is an unattractive person to everyone else, you can’t help but love her dearly. Why? Because you’ve been forced to operate on the Biblical pattern. You have had to the actions of love regardless of your feelings and therefore now you have deep feelings of love for your child, however lovable she is or not” (Keller, 115-116).
And so maybe in YouthWorks staff don’t just choose to see their communities are desirable; maybe instead they choose to act repeatedly out of love. Regardless of what they get in return from their community, they have to act in love, and that leads them to love their communities.
If you’re outside of YouthWorks, I certainly hope you see where I am going.
Each of us live in communities. Some of our communities are rich in wealth, resources, culture, and relationships; we are privileged to live in such communities and they offer us a lot in return. Other communities we live and minister in can’t offer us a lot, and sometimes we only see the bad that comes from some places, much less what we personally get out of that community.
But in each case, what if we chose to act in love to our homes, regardless of how lovable they are? Communities characterized by people unconditionally acting in love towards their homes, neighborhoods, and towns would be transformed. That’s not to say that issues would disappear, but a collection of people all choosing to act in love towards their homes would certainly have an impact.
So, yes, I’m calling on others to act in love towards their communities, even if they don’t feel as though their community has much to offer in return. And to the brave and the called, let’s move into these forgotten, “unlovable” places and act in love with reckless abandon, making a sacrificial commitment to the good of the other and maybe end up loving these places too.
*Image found at renewelkhart.com