I saw this phrase written somewhere a few months back and it got stuck in my head*. It was one of those things that stood out on the page like it was written in neon lights – probably because it pretty much sums up everything I understand and believe life to be about. Love does.
I think that love is simply the attitude of your heart towards another (do you prefer them?) and the alignment of your actions to that attitude (will you prefer them with your actions?)
It’s all very easy and obvious to relate this to boyfriends/girlfriends, husband/wives, family and friends etc. – we know what love looks like, or at least what’s expected of us in these relationships (even though it still may be a fairly challenging concept). But how about thinking a little more globally? what does love look like in the context of a broken world?
I think we find it really hard to practice love towards people we can’t see – I know I do. Their problems aren’t really a part of my every day reality so its easy to pretend they don’t exist, or at least that they have nothing to do with me. We can be really naive about the impact our actions (or lack of actions) have on others and we often choose to stay ignorant so that we don’t have to change our comfortable habits.
So, rewind a second. Who is it that we’re supposed to love?
Jesus teaches us to love our neighbour.
But who’s our neighbour?
Our neighbours are the people who’s lives we touch with our lives.
The problem is that these days our neighbours are no longer just the people in the house next door, or our little group of family and friends, or even those in our local town. We’ve gone global. We live in a world where our lives touch people in every corner of the earth, our decisions impact others on a massive scale, and our choices have repercussions…we just don’t always notice them.
Its easy to pretend something isn’t happening when you can’t see it. But it is.
I remember my first trip to Africa. I cannot tell you just how much I loved it, it was one of those life changing experiences. I decided after about a day that I should move there and live there forever. I’m not even kidding. By the end of my three-week trip my heart felt torn apart. I was wrecked. But it wasn’t seeing poverty that changed me, it was getting to know a bunch of people for whom poverty was personal. HIV had names and faces now, and they were names and faces I had come to care about and love. Their problems became my problems because I had connected to them. It was about relationship, and those relationships changed me.
It was only then that I think I really started to care in a way that was meaningful. Poverty had become personal, and fighting injustice was fighting the causes of my friends – and that felt as natural as standing up for one of my mates if someone had done them wrong. You can’t not. It didn’t feel like a burden it felt like what I was created for.
I feel like I am created to be part of a story of restoration; the restoration of a world that has gone terribly wrong and is destined to be made right again one day.
But that sounds huge, right? and kind of overwhelming? True. But I don’t think it needs to. It’s not about massive decisions and changes that attempt to save the world in one foul swoop – its about practicing love in all of the little things. It’s about creating good habits in our everyday life that work towards the restoration of relationships (in our local or global community), rather than adversely affecting them. And part of that means continuing to build relationships and stay connected to people who will challenge my thoughts and opinions on how I think life should be, issues of justice, and what I should be doing about it. It’s one of the reasons I keep travelling. Its one of the reasons why I love my job.
It’s also one of the reasons why I am ridiculously excited about a new initiative Tearfund’s Youth and Emerging Generations Team have released. It’s called Rhythms and its about encouraging us to take small actions and develop lifestyle rhythms that change the way we live so that together we can change the world. But one step at a time. It’s about bringing together a community of people who are passionate about being change makers in this world and who understand that how we live really matters. And lets face it, it can be a difficult thing to try and do, so doing it together and spurring each other on is helpful support!
I feel like I’ve learnt a lot about love over the last year and what it means to practice love in the way I live. I think I’ve realised that authentic love is always about the other, it always does more than we’d expect it to do, always gives more of itself for the benefit of others than is deemed wise by onlookers who persistently encourage you to look out for number one, and it always fights for what is right no matter how hard the battle. Love doesn’t have the boundaries or the prejudices that we instinctively do, it just loves regardless. It’s always more. It’s always bigger.
*It turns out its the name of a book – which is now sitting on my desk at work ready to be read! Great stuff! :)