As I’ve noted, I’m on retreat with about 15 youth at a monastery. Our topic has been freedom and love – the two most important things necessary in our journey to become fully what God has created us to be. It’s not a complicated subject. “Everybody’s in favor of love,” Fr. Thomas Hopko says. What then, is so difficult about love?
Of course, love is not difficult as a topic. As discussions go, 12-15 year olds seem about as insightful as their adult parents. But, of course, there is something difficult about it or else I would not again be spending half a week on this topic with teenagers in a monastery.
Love is difficult because it comes not from the head but from the heart. If it came from the head only smart people would love – obviously not the case.
What makes it difficult is that we frequently surround it with other things. We disguise it with religion. Indeed, sometimes we may use religious things to confuse the issue and excuse our failures to love. In the name of very specific religious laws, Christ was crucified. Religion does not make us better people.
God makes us better, and although our religion is itself a necessary part of what God has commanded, He has never commanded us not to love. I recall in the early years of our OCA mission, one of our members was unexpectedly killed in a car wreck. We were meeting in a warehouse and were in no way prepared for a funeral. I was still in transition and not yet ordained as an Orthodox priest.
That evening as I sat, in grief and stunned silence, the phone rang. It was the neighboring Greek Orthodox priest. “I insist that you have the funeral here,” he said. I later found out that someone had questioned him. Silly inter-jurisdictional objections. With steadfast goodness he told them, “It’s the Christian thing to do.” Indeed. What is so hard about that?
We made our way through probably one of the most difficult emotional weeks of my life and certainly one that was difficult for our tiny mission. But what was not difficult was the clarity of a brother priest. Nothing is complicated about love unless you don’t want to love.
I continue to give thanks for someone who owed me nothing and was willing to put up with a little grief because he knew God.
Our lives are not terribly complicated. They are as hard as keeping God’s commandments. We were told from the beginning that following Christ may very well get us killed. But we take up the cross, apparently agreeing that we will die when the time comes. Love is not hard – it’s just deadly – in a way that gives us the only life worth having.
I rejoice to be telling this to children. They probably live in far more difficult settings than any adults I know.
Love God. Love your neighbor. Do the Christian thing. What’s so hard? Apparently our hearts are what’s so hard. May God soften them and create a new heart within us. I want as much for us all.