“Love without truth is sentimentality. Truth without love is harshness.” –Tim Keller Come on. You didn’t really think you would open up a post this close to Valentine’s Day that wasn’t about love, did you? In the church, love is our thing. It’s what we’re supposed to be really good at. All you’ve got to do is love God and love neighbor, and you’ve stumbled onto the Golden Ticket….or was that the Golden Rule? Either way, love is our primary commodity in the church, but all too often, the concept is traded around like Monopoly money…..cheap….easy….barely worth the colorful paper it’s printed on. Because, like Brené Brown says, real love is gritty and dangerous. It’s stubborn and tenacious. In fact, the more work I do in churches, the more convinced I am that most of what plagues us can be boiled down to a lack of the hearty kind of love.
I know 1 Cor. 13 tells us some things about love, but I thought I might try to add a few that Paul left out.
- Love is honest….and occasionally even confrontational – How many churches have we seen where they hold onto the secretary after he can no longer do the job; where folks turn a blind eye while fellow board members over-promise and under-deliver? How much gossip have we heard in the narthex that goes unconfronted? More often, cowardice than love lets a person flounder in a place where they aren’t called and aren’t thriving. If love is about helping a person be their best, not telling them the truth robs them of that chance.
- Love is vulnerable – One of life’s great tragedies is that the more we love someone, the more they can hurt us. And sometimes they do. We need to love them anyway.
- Love sometimes bites its tongue because it forgives the shadow sides – Didn’t I say that love tells the truth? Well, if Niels Bohr is right that the opposite of a great truth is also true, then maybe love does both. We are all works in progress, and no one is always perfect. Sometimes love lets go….doesn’t pick a fight….forgives bad breath and bad moods and days because it doesn’t let a person’s shadow side overshadow their true heart. Love learns the right time to let it go.
- Love sacrifices…..sometimes it’s even downright expensive – I hope I’m not projecting because I just got my daughter’s first college bill, but I think love is often expensive. It asks us to give up our comfort like my brother is currently doing by sleeping on an uncomfortable plastic hospital chair after his wife’s late-night appendectomy. Or it asks us to give up our resources, like when a church member needs a ride….or a babysitter….or someone to listen to their same trauma story for what feels like the hundredth time. If love isn’t eventually expensive, it’s probably not love.
- Love has boundaries – As one of my wise clients says, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” Refusing to be clear about what you can and cannot do leads to confusion, which leads to conflict, hurt feelings, and resentment. All boundarilessness buys us is burn-out. But if the relationship is a marathon, not a sprint, then we need to name our limits and live inside them. Boundaries help us be in it for the long haul, which is usually the most loving thing we can do.
- Love is inconvenient – Having to cancel dinner plans for the sick kid, finding someone else to preach in a pinch because you’ve got a mentally ill congregation member who needs to be taken to the ER, and taking the phone call from a friend in crisis when all you want to do is finish your book: these are just examples of the inconveniences of loving someone who doesn’t just fit into the open slots on your calendar.
- Love shows up – When you don’t know what to say, show up. When you’re mad as hell, show up. When you don’t want to be there, or when you’re tired, bored, or disappointed, or have 1,000 other things to do, show up anyway. Love shows up.
This Valentine’s Day, may we lean into the gritty kind of love. Tell someone they have something stuck between their teeth. Lovingly confront someone’s bad behavior. Say no to serving on the committee you know you don’t have time for. And then watch that love transform both you and them. Real love that is gritty and dangerous might be the only kind that can.