by Nancy R. Catan
The past two months I have been beset by health concerns and advised to bed rest. So while at rest I have caught up with some of my reading, in particular in the wonderfully inspiring book “The Imitation of Christ” by Thomas a Kempis. In Book III, chapters 5 and 6, he writes about love. He writes about love of and for God, and in the light of this month of love, I would like to share some of his thoughts with you.
“The wise lover does not consider so much the lover’s gift, as the giver’s love.” This is a truth we should take to heart, especially in this day and age when we tend to put more emphasis and value on how much the gift costs and how many gifts we receive rather than how much does the giver really give us of his/her love.
“Love is a great thing, a great good in every way, for it alone lightens every burden and passes smoothly over all misfortunes. Love carries a burden without feeling it and makes every bitter thing sweet and savory. The noble love of Jesus spurs us on to do great things and excites us always to long for perfection. Love wants to soar to the heights and not be tied down by anything low.” Upon reading this profound statement, I asked myself (and I urge you to ask yourself) does my love for Jun, my husband, spur me on to do great things? Does my love excite me to long for perfection in my life, and in my relationships? Does my love for God excite me and take me out of my comfort zones to strive to do great things? I answer, “Yes, most of the time…”
“Love is born of God; in the end, it rests in nothing other than God. A person who loves may soar, run and rejoice; he is free and nothing holds him back. He does not look at the gifts he receives, but he turns himself beyond all gifts to the Giver. … Because love believes that it can accomplish anything, it does.”
“Love is swift, honest, devout, joyous and pleasing; love is strong, patient, faithful, prudent, long-suffering, courageous. Love is never self-seeking, for when we seek ourselves, we abandon love. Love is watchful, humble and upright; it is not soft, not frivolous, not given to empty things; it is sober, chaste, steadfast, calm, and it always stays alert. Love is … devout and grateful to God, always trusting and hoping in him, even when it cannot taste him, for one does not know love without pain.”
What is love? Does my love for God and for others measure up to this description? In what ways can I increase the quality of my love? February is a time that we should set aside to ask ourselves the hard questions about love and how God’s love for us and our love for Him colors our lives.
It’s sad that in this day and age the word “love” is so commonly used and misused that it has lost much of its God-given meaning. I feel that the secularization of “love” in recent times has in effect placed human love solely in the hands of man, detaching it from God, degrading it to the level of commonness, vulgarity, lust/sex and perversion. It even appears that many of us have forgotten how to love, or have chosen to love in the wrong ways, or never learned how to love to begin with, especially once the hype of Valentine’s Day fades away. And there are many people who love only themselves and refuse, either knowingly or unknowingly, to show or share this love with others.
As emphasized in “The Imitation of Christ”, love is God-given and God-commanded. Right from the beginning of time during creation, God created man and woman for love. On the mountain top in the desert in Moses’ presence, He began the 10 commandments with Love. Jesus in the New Testament emphasized many times that loving God and loving neighbor/others is an obligation we are commanded to follow for life.
What does all this mean? We have been created out of love, for love, and with the calling to love God. God is not so concerned with external show; He is more concerned with the intentions of the heart. Our words and our actions reflect the state of our heart. If we love Him, our words and our actions should show to all that we have a heart like His, a heart of love, of mercy, and of compassion and love for others. What God expects from us is what he cannot create on his own – our love. He has given us the freedom to choose – to love unconditionally, or to love with conditions, or not to love at all.
Love is a matter of the heart. In one of my favorite books, “The Prophet” by Lebanese philosopher Kahlil Gibran, he says that we should not say, “God is in my heart,” but that “I am in the heart of God.” To me, this is such a sublime statement and reminds me what love, true love, is meant to be. Not that I love someone, or someone loves me, but that we are in each other’s heart. Jun is in my heart, and I am in the heart of Jun, my husband of 50 years! Our life together clearly shows that love IS a matter of the heart.
The choice to love, or not to love, is ours. As we look back and reflect on our lives I am sure that each of us can appreciate how our hearts have grown over time as we have chosen to love and allowed God’s love to lovingly embrace us. As we look at and reflect on our growth (or stagnancy, as the case may be) in our character qualities, we can always trace our development back to our choices and how much we have loved, as well as how much we have allowed God to love us.
We need to admit and accept that love, especially God’s love, is the most important thing in our lives. Love should be the foundation for everything we do, think and say. Without love our lives would be so empty and lonely. We need to give and share love, even more than we need to receive love. And this kind of selfless and wonder-filled love cannot and should not be viewed only in terms of red roses, boxes of chocolates, gifts, special dates with our loved ones, and greetings of sweet sayings during this “love” month.
Yes, love is a matter of the heart. So let us choose to love God first and foremost, to love ourselves and others, to live in love, and to share our love, not only on Feb 14 and during this “love” month, but all the year round.