To love. I do not mean the raging hormones seeking to find release that is mistakenly called “love” and so extolled and worshiped in music, novels, and film. No, I mean LOVE: genuine benevolence, compassion, and desire of wellbeing for others.
Authentic love requires courage, because it is accompanied by sacrifice and risk. On this side of eternity, love will always result in heartache. Such heartache will come by means of being nonreciprocal (rejection or resistance), betrayal, or loss (separation or death). Each pain is different, but each hurt immensely to the core of our being.
Without romanticizing or glamorizing love, we must be willing to ask ourselves, is it worth the risk? One should not be overly critical of those who have felt the wounds of heartache stemming from what, from their part, was true love: loss of a parent, a friend moving away, the betrayal of a lover, the death of a pet, rejection by one greatly admired, etc. Such internal pain can embitter a person. There are those who choose to harden their hearts and close them up securely, so that they might protect themselves from such suffering again. Their hearts become like walls of Jericho—none shall enter and they shall not come out (see Joshua 6:1). Yet, this too, comes with great risk.
Only as a person is open to love, both willing to extend and receive it, can he truly experience the wonders of love, joy, connection, and true humanity. Furthermore, as much as we can extend and receive love can we truly appreciate another’s kindness or sacrifice, a baby’s dependency, a dog’s kisses, a friend’s good intentions, another’s sincere apology, the beauty of life, etc.
As mentioned, to choose to not love also comes with risk. One can choose to protect themselves from further pain of heartache, but not without imprisoning themselves to a place void of joy, peace, and true purpose. A person might protect themselves from the heartache of rejection, betrayal, and loss; however, replacing these is the pain of loneliness, friendlessness, disconnect, bitterness, and resentment. Furthermore, he misses his deeper purpose, as our species is created to be relational. In other words, he imprisons himself and forfeits freedom. Sadly, there are many who find such imprisonment worth it—just as long as they can protect their hearts. But in the long run, do they?
To love does not mean we are to be naive or stupid. We are to be discerning who we befriend, keep company with, and give our hearts to. Indeed, the Scriptures command us to love others—including our enemies. However, we are also told:
Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. ~ Proverbs 13:20 (ESV)
Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” ~ 1 Corinthians 15:33
Love does not mean condoning or passively putting up with abuse and meanness. Let us be clear on this. However, we should not close and harden our hearts, suspecting the universe—and everyone in it—is against us. We should not set standards so high as being impossible for others to attain. We should not erect a wall, and having a grotesque gargoyle appearance on our face—intimidating anyone who would dare approach us. And we should not shoot back a cold, empty stare when someone greets us with a warm smile.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-6
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. ~ Romans 12:9-13
Notice, genuine love abhors what is evil, and it does not rejoice at wrongdoing. Love is not about phony niceness, becoming a doormat, or giving allowance to anything and everything. Nevertheless, love is patient, kind, and honorable with others. In other words, love does not wink at corruption or turn a blind eye to injustice. However, love does not condemn everyone guilty until proven innocent or withhold mercy at every shortcoming. Love remembers, compassionately, that no one is perfect and grace is required.
Yes, there is sorrow and pain that come with embracing the risk to love, but there is greater risk in not doing so. The sorrow that comes with love is mingled with times of joy, delight, and connection. The closed heart prohibits such mingling but remains as a dank, lonesome dungeon.