“Lord, do I really love You?” My words came suddenly without thought. I’d never questioned my love for Him. There I was, driving to my first solo retreat in the mountains. Even before I left town, I was gabbing with Him. I wanted to take advantage of every minute; to hear what He would say to me.
I continued, “I’ve always said I love you, but how do I know? What does that love look like? I’m afraid sometimes I love you just for what you’ve done for me.”
A book I’ve been reading triggered my thoughts. The ethereal words the author uses to describe God were unlike the way I talk about Him. The author seemed to live on a deeper emotional level than me. Did the flowery descriptions indicate more authentic love?
When I asked God about my love for Him, I was reminded of phrases such as, If you love me you’ll keep my commandments. If you love me, feed my sheep. So far so good.
I thought of a homeless woman I met last Wednesday in Columbia. As I walked down Main Street, I heard a voice call out, “Will you get me a sandwich?” I found a disheveled woman in a folding chair surrounded by her meager belongings. Her fingernails were dirty, her face was hairy, and her hair was tangled and frizzy. I hated that I noticed her appearance first. I wanted to step back. “Hi, sure. Where can I buy one, and what kind would you like?” I was rushing, hoping I hadn’t gotten a parking ticket. She pointed out a shop not far away and said, “Ham and cheese.” As I hurried to my car, she shouted, “Oh, tell them to put two slices of tomato on it.”
She didn’t see my eye roll as I answered, “Okay.” I fed the meter then got in line for her sandwich, which seemed to take forever. I walked back to bring the sandwich and drink to her. The woman thanked me and told me goodness would come into my life. “Why are you here on the street? What happened?” She offered a long story about being evicted from a retirement home. Apparently, she was a victim of injustice and lacked the ability to improve her situation. When skepticism clouded my thinking, I tried to dismiss it. Why couldn’t I just be compassionate? I left her and said I’d pray for her, then went on my way. I wish I’d felt more concerned. Why didn’t I put a hand on her shoulder and pray, as I normally do?
A couple of months ago, on a cold and rainy day, I met another homeless woman who lived in a park with her dog. I bought her food and other requested necessities for several days in a row. When I located a community resource, I offered to drive her to the shelter for meals. She refused. Like my recent acquaintance, she had a long story I wanted to believe but couldn’t.
Did my small acts for strangers show my love for God? Shouldn’t I have felt more love for them?
Turning to scripture here’s what I found:
Anyone who loves me will listen to My voice and obey. John 14:23, The Voice
Jesus said, I have loved you as the Father has loved Me. Abide in my love. Follow my example in obeying the Father’s commandments and receiving His love. If you obey My commandments, you will stay in My love. I want you to know the delight I experience, to find ultimate satisfaction, which is why I’m telling you all this. My commandment to you is this: love others as I have loved you. There is no greater way to love than to give your life for your friends. John 15: 9-13
Jesus, quoting from the Old Testament, said, Love the Eternal One your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is nearly as important, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Matthew 23:37-39
We love because He has first loved us. 1 John 4:19
An important fact about God’s love came to mind. Agape is not a feeling but an action. To learn that I didn’t have to feel certain things before I could show love relieved me.
Since love is commanded, it must be something I’m able to do. To love is a decision. Sometimes loving people will be accompanied by feelings, but not always. The more I learn about God’s love for us, the more I want to love Him. To love God is summed up by obeying Him.
Jesus healed a man from leprosy when no one else would go near him.
In Luke 10:29, we’re told the parable of a despised Samaritan man who went above and beyond what certain religious people were willing to do, to care for the physical needs of a stranger. The good Samaritan, as we call him, teaches us how to love strangers by our actions.
Even with God’s power, the furthest degree of my love will never equal that of our perfect Savior.
By reaching out to the homeless women, I was able to show tangible love, God’s love, even while I was skeptical and frustrated with their attitudes. I showed up in my limited human way. I smiled. I listened. I fed them.
Buying food for people on the street is a simple act I hope I’ll always say yes to. Loving people with God’s love isn’t something that comes naturally in my flesh, but it’s intuitive because His Spirit lives in me.
I’ll always be learning more about love.