“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7)
This is the month for love, or so the greeting card companies and candy makers would have us believe. (Personally, I think every month is the month to remember our spouses or sweethearts, and to be thankful that God has gifted our lives with their love). But February stands apart. Come the 14th, on Valentine’s Day, millions of us (myself included) will remember those we love with a card and with chocolate (is there any other kind?) candy.
In the book Forgiveness, Finding Peace Through Letting Go, pastor and author Adam Hamilton encourages us to use special days like Valentine’s Day to tell our spouses just how much we appreciate them. This goes a long way toward keeping our love “ledgers” focused on the credit side. Add up the ways your loved one blesses you this Valentine’s Day. Do away with the debit side of the ledger, those irritating or annoying things your spouse or loved one does. Do this, and you will practice love and forgiveness the way God in Christ loves and forgives us.
But don’t let your love stop there. Jesus also commanded his followers to love their neighbors as themselves. That is way easier said than done because it means loving people who are not like us, people who don’t look like us or talk like us, people with whom we may disagree strongly on certain issues. (Remember the “Good Samaritan” was a contradiction in terms to first century Jews). Nonetheless, Jesus commands us to love those who are different from us. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34). Note that he doesn’t ask, plead or beg us to love others—this is a command.
Learning to love is hard. But learning to love is life. It is learning to see the sacred in another person who is made in God’s image, especially when that image does not conform to our own. When we love one another, this is the life of God in Christ Jesus that is our life as his disciples.
As we mark Valentine’s Day this year, my prayer is that we will practice love the way God in Christ showed love toward us—unselfishly, wholeheartedly, unconditionally.
And I pray that in a time when people in our communities and our nation are so divided, so ready to cast stones at those they perceive as enemies, that we stop and take a fresh breath of God’s Spirit. Let us learn to recognize the image of God in the other; respect the differences, rejoice in what brings us together; and, continue to stand for mercy and justice for all people. Let us learn to love others—it may be the hardest thing we do this year.