You know how people say it's not what you say, but it’s how you say it? As if one statement can hold an array of different meanings depending on how it’s delivered. As someone who is working on her own communication and delivery on a daily basis (“Hi, I’m Lex and I struggle with chronic sass and attitude syndrome.”), I can totally agree with that.
And I think the same is true about love.
Love is kinda hard, right? Like in the "I have no idea what the heck I'm doing" sort of way. In friendships, romance, family, or any other context, it's just not always the easiest thing to truly practice. I've had multiple people tell me that I love hard. I'm not entirely sure what they mean by that, but what I do know is this: it's not all sweetness and love notes and laughs all the time. And it's definitely not convenient. It's effort and trial-error and "I'm sorry" and crying together, too. The sweetness and inside jokes and convenient moments are easy. Those moment are like the comfy warm blankets on cold winter nights that we adore so much. But the "I'm sorry" or "that hurt me" requires a lot of effort and a lot of showing up for yourself and the people in your life. It's the uncomfortable moments and how they're handled that lay the firm foundation of trust in relationship. We all want to know that we can trust someone with our vulnerable, fragile hearts. We want to know that we can trust that the difficult moments won't be enough for someone to walk away. People that can stick close and feel it all with you at all times, no matter what, are the ones we hope for most.
But that requires a willingness to go there and stay there. That requires being okay with being uncomfortable sometimes. It requires that we admit, "hey, I really don't know what I'm doing either. But I'm just gonna sit with you. I'm not leaving."
And to get there requires a whole lot more than sweetness and laughs.
That requires a willingness to get beyond the "what can I get out of this person" mentality and to step into the "how can I love you best through this moment" commitment.
Maybe love is so hard because it isn’t something we can control. Maybe it’s the unpredictability we staple to it, although, I would argue that love is quite possibly the greatest predicability in all of history’s past, present, and future. It’s really the receptivity to love that is unpredictable, right? The giver usually wants to know that the receiver will accept and, best case scenario, give back. But that's not the promise, nor should it be the motivation.
Love demands something of us that we are too often not willing to give. We want certainty---reward without any risk. We want “If I do this, than I’m guaranteed that.”
But we don’t experience that, huh? Certainty was never a part of the conversation of love.
But hope always was.
There isn’t a guidebook for love that covers all situations, circumstances, relationship statuses, seasons of life, people, personalities, and life experiences. It’s true; I checked. No one tells you just how maverick love really is. There isn’t a yes or a no or a tried and true set of rules to follow. There isn’t an “if this, than that” to go by. It stretches and molds into ridiculous new forms and shapes. It must. If it didnt, it really wouldn’t be doing its job, would it?
Jesus modeled this time and time again through out his life and ministry. He consistently adjusted himself to the needs of others and the needs of the moment. He chose to invest His life into Matthew, a man loathed by his community and completely unchurched, instead of the super religious who could quote scripture without even thinking twice (1). He affiliated with prostitutes and women unfaithful to their husbands, giving them a second chance to live their lives rightly (2). He gave His time and knowledge and efforts and heart to those who would ultimately deny that they ever had any relationship with Him at all (3). He knew very well that there was no “if this, than that” guarantee when He gave His life for all of ours. He knew there wouldn’t be a 100% return rate on that gift of love. He knew some would push Him away, leave His gift unopened, and even aggressively oppose everything He embodies.
Yet, He gave it anyway.
Love is not a math problem to solve or a conclusion at which to arrive, either. It cannot be sorted or explained. It’s felt emotionally, but also chosen practically. It’s heard and seen and a steady hand and space given and prayers spoken and hopes unceasing. It's sometimes “yes” and sometimes “no”. But it is absolutely never “maybe”. The word “maybe” is straight from hell. Not an ounce of love is found within it’s intentions.
But you know the craziest thing about love?
It’s not dependent on the recipient.
It isn’t swayed by rejection or misunderstanding. It doesn’t budge at frustrations or conflicts. It endures all of it because love is far more dependent on the giver than it is the receiver. The giver determines just how much love is extended…they establish the efforts and the boundaries. They are free to be reckless and daring or their heart can remain locked up like a diamond in an antique jewelry box—forever shiny & unchanged, but never seen, known, or enjoyed.
Have you heard of Hosea? Hosea was a man married to a woman named Gomer. Gomer was, in one way or another, considered promiscuous or a prostitute in her time. In either sense, her unfaithfulness to her husband was evident. The affairs became so involved and out of control that Gomer eventually leaves Hosea for another lover despite every attempt he makes to stop her. Now, typically at this point in any story the left behind spouse finds a way to move forward with their life. They do their best to let go of what was and begin to grieve their losses. In most cases, I would imagine that they are hurt so terribly deeply that they feel they have no choice other than to cut that person off and start a new life. The fight in them just kinda expires.
But this story is encouragingly different.
The details are uncertain, but what we do know is that God had such a love for Gomer that He lead Hosea to pursue, protect, and redeem her. Hosea was determined to fight his way back into his wife’s heart. And that he does as he hears the voice of God saying, “Go again, love a woman (Gomer) who is loved by her husband (Hosea), yet an adulteress, even as the Lord loved the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods” (Hosea 3:1). You see, the secret in the story is that Hosea could not have contained such a love for Gomer if it wasn’t for the empowering love of the Lord. You just read it—“as the Lord loves”. Hosea’s unceasing and unrelenting love for his wife was a stunning reflection of God’s love for us. In so many ways, we are Gomer. We make it so unbelievably challenging for ourselves to experience the fulness of love between each other and with God because sometimes it isn’t easy---and we are so not okay with "hard". Far too often, what is easiest is to walk away, to keep our distance, and to not have to sort through all the messiness.
I get it. I've wrestled with that choice a lot, too.
For your sake and mine, I wish love wasn’t so hard. I wish it didn’t require us to put ourselves aside and do whats best for the other. I wish it didn’t demand that we kill every ounce of our pride and expose the rawness of our hearts. I wish it didn’t make us fragile and vulnerable and soft. I wish it didn’t come with risk.
But it does.
It moves us to give more than we can imagine receiving. It inspires us to say “Let me try this again, maybe in a new way” instead of giving up. It doesn’t withhold affection —it cannot, it is not capable of it. It does not hold back; it is reckless in its very nature. It leans in closer when the other pulls away. It was never meant to be shushed. It recognizes that you don’t get too many more tomorrows, so it says “I love you” in more ways than words every chance it gets. It fights for one another and chases each other and pursues the God forsaken “maybe” out of each other because real love knows how to do nothing else but that.
Love is not dependent on the receiver.
Love is, and always will be, dictated by the Giver.
& You and I are givers.
So give. Stop searching for the right time or the right way. God never said, “I’m not ready to love you yet…the time hasn’t come. I don’t have this or that, so love will have to wait.” & He also didn’t say, “I can’t love you because I’m unsure of if you’ll love me back.” No. He said, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (4). And then He said, “Love each other as I have loved you” (5)...with an enduring, reckless, ever pursuing, relentless, fought-hard-for kind of love.
The only kind there is.
I'm still learning so much about what this looks like within my own life, too. We're not alone in our complete and utter ineptness. We're clumsy and struggle through so much of what love asks of us. But despite all of our failures, I hope we can both look at one another and say, "hey, I really don't know what I'm doing either. But I'm just gonna sit with you. I'm not leaving."
Alexa | Joy
(1) Matthew 9:12-13 ; (2) John 4 ; (3) John 18:15-27 / Luke 22:54-62 / Mark 14:66-72 ; (4) Jeremiah 31:3 ; (5) John 15:12