What Real Love is…and what it’s NOT

“What would Jesus do?” Commercially popular on bumper stickers, t-shirts and wristbands, it’s still a good question to ask. And the simple answer is…

Jesus would love.

Love has lots of meanings. I love chocolate ice cream. I love the feel of the sun on my skin. I love a hot bath. I love the home I live in. These are passive types of love—feelings generated by pleasant experiences that don’t require me to do anything. But there’s another kind of love that’s much more important. It’s the love that God has for us, and that He wants us to express to others. It’s that kind of love that the Apostle Paul was talking about in I Corinthians 13, often referred to as the “Love Chapter.” He characterizes what love is…and what it’s not.

Love suffers long

Kara married young, fresh out of college. Bright eyed and eager to please, she embraced her new role with all the expectations and hopes that most young women have. And then she discovered a secret truth about her husband that shocked and distressed her.

Now what?

Too ashamed and embarrassed to open up to others, she kept quiet. She’d married him knowing her parents had misgivings. But even though she realized they’d been right, she’d been taught to honor her commitment. She’d made a vow to God.

So, she stayed and together they raised a family. It was difficult. And at times it was okay, even good. But it wasn’t what she’d dreamt of, nor expected. It certainly wasn’t what God intended in marriage. And she paid a price. The family paid a price.

The marriage ultimately failed. And that’s how Kara learned the true meaning of love. Because her divorce polarized people.

Love does not behave rudely

When Kara and her husband’s separation became public knowledge, most people were shocked.

Everyone thought they knew her husband well. He was, after all, a “great guy.” He was engaging, social, fun-loving and always willing to serve others. So when he began telling them his version of the marriage, he was readily believed. It didn’t help that Kara had closed herself off, nor that she harbored a lot of hurt and resentment toward her husband. Some could see that, even if they didn’t understand why.

So people took sides. Kara found herself ostracized by some who’d professed to be her friends in the past. Some didn’t know what to say, so they said nothing. Some avoided using her in service projects, afraid of other people’s criticism. It was as though she’d been tainted.

Love does not parade or puff itself up

She and her children moved across the country to live temporarily with family. Kara found herself starting over again, at a time in her life when she’d least expected it. She felt alone, with no one to cry out to except God. So she did.

At first she didn’t know what to say. She felt many conflicting emotions. After all, though he made a good show in front of others, behind closed doors her husband had made her feel “less than” for many years.

So maybe those things were true. Maybe her husband was right. And if so, would God want to listen to her? Would He hear her?

She carried a lot of guilt about the way she’d handled things in her marriage. She knew her children were suffering too and she knew she was partly responsible for that. They were angry and confused about the divorce. So was she. Should she have stayed longer? Left sooner? Endured through the difficulties, the pain, the selfishness, the abuse?

What kind of woman had she become through it all? Was she a woman that God was pleased with? As she wrestled with these difficult questions, she found herself asking God for the answers. She began to take long walks each morning, before everyone else had woken up. Still dark out, it was the one time of day she could be sure to have privacy. So she walked…and cried…and talked to God.

She wasn’t always sure He was listening—not at first. But she knew she felt better after she’d unburdened herself, so she kept doing it.

Love is kind

Over time Kara found herself surprised by the ones who began to reach out to her, offering love and support. Some knew she was hurting because they’d gone through similar circumstances. They shared links to articles that had helped them. Others invited her over, or out for coffee. Still others demonstrated love by comforting her with their time, even though they didn’t know the ins and outs of what had happened. They made a point of finding her at church and giving her hugs, saying they didn’t need to know, which she appreciated. They would ask her how she really was, not accepting her carefully composed “I’m fine.”

Slowly, she began to blossom under the warmth of their care. The outpouring of love meant a lot to her. It made her think about what God’s love really looks like. Could it be that God was teaching her something? Had He placed these people in her life for a specific purpose?

Love is not moved by envy, hatred or anger

At the same time, Kara felt disappointment and hurt by the neglect of others. She wondered why people who’d known her for years now stayed silent. She questioned the love they’d previously professed for her. Some contacted her, fishing for information, but not actually offering support. Some she only heard from once. Some not at all. Some acted friendly when she bumped into them, but then she would hear about what they’d said privately.

Love is not provoked

In the beginning of their separation, Kara’s husband had talked. A lot. He threw accusations around like darts, each one a sharp jab to her heart. How could he say those things about her? She’d given up her own budding career, by choice, to raise their children. Now she was struggling to find a job, feel worthy of one. Yet, as division of assets took place, he acted more and more like the victim. Each time she heard through the grapevine some new, twisted version of things, she wanted to defend herself. But she kept silent. She knew what he was doing; that he was trying to garner sympathy.  

Love does not rejoice in iniquity but rejoices in the truth

People formed opinions and made judgments based on hurtful rumors that spread like weeds and choked out the truth.

It was difficult to not retaliate. Didn’t she deserve to tell people her version of the “truth?” But she knew that the “truth” was relative. He had his perceptions, she had hers. What good would it do to try to sway people to her way of thinking?

So she held her head high, letting people believe what they chose, except for a small handful of close friends. She knew that really only God knew the truth about her marriage, her heart, and she determined to let that be enough.

Love thinks no evil

Kara’s husband began dating before their divorce was final. That hurt. He hadn’t been willing to get help to address the problems in their relationship, despite what he told everyone. It seemed to her that he was just willing to throw away 19 years and start over with someone else. Why wouldn’t he fight for them? For her? Yet, she tried to see things through his eyes, feel his pain. She knew he was suffering in his own way. She knew he was lonely. She didn’t like or agree with the choices he’d made, nor the way those choices had impacted the family. But she couldn’t bring herself to feel animosity towards him. After all, they’d shared many years together. He was still the father of her children. Though it was challenging, she tried to keep all her communication with him polite.

Love does not seek its own

In the beginning she asked God to help her understand why. Then she asked Him to help her learn from it. Finally her prayers shifted to how she might help others from her experiences, the way He and others were helping her. She decided that someday, when she felt ready, she would open up about her experiences, be transparent about her mistakes. If her story could prevent someone else from making the same poor choices, or be of comfort to another in their own struggle, then didn’t she have a responsibility to share?

Love bears, believes, hopes and endures all things

Time passed. Kara found a good job and was finally able to move herself and her children into their own apartment. It wasn’t what they’d been used to, but it was a start. There were many rocky patches, helped by therapy and the ongoing support of friends. Each of them struggled with grief; they’d lost so much.

After a couple of years she felt ready to date again. She’d gained a lot of clarity about herself, her marriage and the mistakes she’d made. She knew what she was looking for, but would she find it?

She tried to not focus on being alone for the rest of her life. She tried to trust that God had a plan for her that might (or might not) include the love of a man. She tried to keep her focus on the present; what God expected of her, what her children needed from her. She persevered.

And then, when she least expected it, there he was.

Love never fails

As love grew between them, some who had been cold to her in the beginning began to thaw. Kara tried to not begrudge their turnaround. She forgave them, even though she still struggled to forget. But God was teaching her about that too. He was teaching her to put her faith in His love and purpose for her. Instead of reflecting on past hurts, she needed to look forward to future possibilities. As her love for this new man grew, so did her love for God. She marveled at the circumstances that had brought this man into her life at the perfect time, in the perfect way. She delighted in the way he treated her, and she strived to give of herself in ways she’d not before. And she thanked God, daily, for blessing her with a second chance.

 Kara’s story is fictional. And it’s not. Each of us can identify with her in some way. We know what it’s like to be treated in unloving ways. We know also, if we’re honest, that we fall short in showing outgoing love and concern toward others. Sometimes we’re quick to judge, jump to conclusions, act in condemning ways. Yet, just like Kara’s husband, we all have our secret sins.

That’s right. You have yours. I have mine. God sees them all and He loves us despite them.

So when we think about how to treat each other, it’s good to ask “What would Jesus do?” He would love. He does love.

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