It was Paul in the New Testament who wrote, “Though I have all faith so as to remove mountains and have not love, I am nothing,” (1 Corinthians 13). This type of love—agape—never quits. It is unselfish, far removed from “what’s in it for me” syndrome. It keeps on giving.
All of us are either “givers” or “takers”, or a combination of both. It is the “takers” that give us trouble. “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine” is the name of their game. Greed in many forms is rampant. Fr. Richard Rohr reminds us that living in this consumer-driven world, we are often infected by what some call “affluenza”, a toxic and blinding disease that hinders our breaking through to the center of our soul.
Soulful love is often tested in a world like ours. Sometimes, life bombards us with one crisis after another. We have to deal with the unexpected, the unwanted and the unpredictable. We may be knocked down several times in a short period and feel devastated, to stay the least. The people we love may even turn against us; the life we have known is suddenly interrupted and the only place we can go, it seems, is to our knees with the old plea, “Please help me, Lord.” Or, “this, too, shall pass,” or “God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in time of trouble.” When we are driven to the center of our being, transformation can take place.
My wife and I have had several challenges in the last month. Our home was burglarized twice in a three-week period. Our loss was substantial. I remember when you didn’t have to lock your doors at night. I don’t remember anyone being robbed when I was growing up in Philadelphia, Mississippi. But today is different. My love for humanity has been tested to the nth degree, but I believe love is still the most powerful thing in the world. It’s the only thing that makes sense, and it’s the only thing that will stand the test of time.
“Our inner spiritual core is love. And like the sun, it can be hidden by dark clouds—clouds of fear, negativity and limiting beliefs—but it can never be put out,” (Houses of Healing, A Prisoner’s Guide to Inner Power and Freedom). Our greatest emotional need is to love and to be loved. Nothing can be a substitute for that. But to love something or someone unconditionally always leaves us vulnerable to pain; so much pain that we can hardly bear it alone. To love another human means you are taking a chance of a broken heart. But, to me, it’s worth it—pain and all.
I made up my mind a long time ago that I would never allow anything to make me cynical and bitter toward life. That resolution has certainly been tested many times, and so far, thank God, I still believe that love—the kind Jesus talked about—never fails. Self-pity is not the answer for anything. There are so many good Samaritans in this world—people who would go out of their way to be of help—that we don’t ever need to feel sorry for ourselves.
Married love is often tested. The divorce rate remains high. That which appears to be love is not love at all. It may be “eros”, or sexual attraction, that motivates many to go to the altar. However, many marriages succeed because many people know the difference between unselfish love and that which is self-seeking. Meeting the needs of others is the foundation stone of a good marriage, a workable relationship. An author by the name of James Holmes asked, “I’ve been married to the same woman for over 40 years. I wonder what’s wrong with me?” I am always heartened by the pictures of couples in the newspaper who have made it to their golden anniversary. This doesn’t mean they haven’t had any problems, but they have weathered every storm that came their way. They have honored their promise “for better or for worse.” They are not like Mr. Lockhorn, who said, “I got married during the Depression and I’ve been depressed ever since.”
I will take this a step further and say that our love for God is being tested. God’s love is not some consolation prize; it is the greatest prize of all. Missing out on God’s love is like winning the lottery but never discovering you have the winning ticket. Dante once remarked, “Love is the energy that moves the sun, the moon and the other stars. The whole universe is on the side of love.”
Many people want to bend the rules to suit themselves, and even play by their own rules, whether they are right or not. And it doesn’t seem to matter who they hurt in the process. These are the people who are living under a delusion that they are “all-powerful” and what they say or do is the law. It’s the obese ego that wreaks havoc. To admit their wrongdoing is not in their vocabulary.
I have great admiration of St. Francs of Assisi. He stood for love at its best; love that empties itself, love that is so secure that it can be poor. Love can let go of reputation, money or anything material. He had the freedom to be poor so he could relate to those in poverty.
So, love can be tested in so many ways. Paul said that it is the only thing that endures. It is kind and patient. It does not insist on its own way.
I like the hymn:
“If I have wounded any soul today,
If I have caused one foot to go astray.
If I have walked in my own willful way,
Dear Lord, forgive.”