Last year on the day before my birthday I was led to the birthday year theme of “embrace love”. At the time it felt ambiguous, flighty even—like, what does that even mean? Oh, maybe I’ll have a relationship, maybe I’ll grow in ministry, maybe…my mental “what-if’s” were endless. I was optimistic that embracing love would bring joy.
A year later, it has—but not at all in the rosy way I expected. Sure, I’ve bloomed in many ways this year—but roses have thorns. Thorns are protection of the bud, for the plant’s health—keeping the unsafe and the unhelpful away. Learning to “embrace love” this year meant blossoms and thorns.
In my professional work when we define a behavior we also define what it isn’t—we give concrete descriptions of the target behavior (e.g. aggression is defined as hitting an object or person with an open or closed fist), while also giving non-examples (e.g. aggression does not include yelling, running away, or lightly tapping a surface with fingertips).
None of my “maybe’s” imagined the “non-examples” of embracing love. But as I look back over the last year, I am so grateful that God in his infinite wisdom began to teach me how to embrace love by also teaching me what love isn’t—and the love to reject. He used hard circumstances where power and position “in the name of love” was mishandled to teach me to recognize His perfect love. He revealed areas of my heart that were prideful, self-sufficient, and clouded by my sin to free me to embrace his love. He healed in the midst of hurt—his is a love that embraces us in our pain and pride and calls us to be healed and humble. His love doesn’t demand devotion or submission. His love doesn’t use fear to manipulate—His love casts out fear. The love I’ve learned to embrace this year is a spoken love—the word became flesh. Speak the truth in love—it must be spoken—truth hurts to heal, faithful are the wounds of a friend. The love I’m learning to embrace is not self-seeking—emboldened by its seeking of the beloved’s best, this love speaks into darkness, tender words from ferocious care. This Love knows that silence is comfortable for the moment but cancer in the long run. Love doesn’t treat people like a number, a dollar symbol, a part of the whole. Love knows that to care for the whole you must care for the one. The Good Shepherd seeks after the one lost sheep—to love well we must love like Him. This is the love that is worth embracing.
The “love passage” in 1st Corinthians is often read at weddings—yet contextually Paul was yelling at the Corinthians—like a stern Father Paul was embodying the love he was calling them to—patient, kind, NOT self-seeking, rejoicing in the truth. He said the hard things because he had a Holy Spirit inspired love. That’s the greatness of love.
My heart wounds are turning to scars—reminders that healing is possible. I won’t be the same—and that’s a good thing. The Gospel has reminded me this year that the love I want to embrace is a scarred love. A love that entered into the mess of this world, the pain, the brokenness, the abuse—and took it on. Christ is quite literally love embodied. I want to embrace that kind of love—the one that flipped tables instead of sweeping things under the rug. The love that cares too much to stay silent in false unity and comfort—knowing wounds caused by words of truth heal. I want to be love like that— speak to heal, cry out for justice, defend the cause of the poor and needy, encourage the faint-hearted, and be patient with them all. Because as much as love endures it also evokes freedom for the beloved. A love that demands is not love at all—it is control, and power, and abusive—self-love is never selfless. So as I look back and look forward—I’m grateful for this year of learning to embrace love. I’m thankful that God has allowed hurt to heal and to teach humility—to encourage and remind me that I can embrace love because he perfectly embraces me in his infinite love