Why is Love so difficult?


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.


  1. says

    Dear Fr. Stephen:

    Your post makes me think of a portion of Auden’s poem September 1, 1939:

    The windiest militant trash
    Important Persons shout
    Is not so crude as our wish:
    What mad Nijinsky wrote
    About Diaghilev
    Is true of the normal heart;
    For the error bred in the bone
    Of each woman and each man
    Craves what it cannot have,
    Not universal love
    But to be loved alone.

    From the conservative dark
    Into the ethical life
    The dense commuters come,
    Repeating their morning vow,
    “I will be true to the wife,
    I’ll concentrate more on my work,”
    And helpless governors wake
    To resume their compulsory game:
    Who can release them now,
    Who can reach the deaf,
    Who can speak for the dumb?

    All I have is a voice
    To undo the folded lie,
    The romantic lie in the brain
    Of the sensual man-in-the-street
    And the lie of Authority
    Whose buildings grope the sky:
    There is no such thing as the State
    And no one exists alone;
    Hunger allows no choice
    To the citizen or the police;
    We must love one another or die.


    Whatever may be said of Auden and his life, I think he grasped the problem of “love” neatly in that one phrase: For the error bred in the bone of each woman and each man craves what it cannot have, not universal love but to be loved alone.

  2. Tracy Gustilo says

    Love is hard. In my heart it seems to be hard because there are always conflicting loves pulling in opposite directions: love of God versus love of neighbor, say. I know that sounds like it shouldn’t happen, but in my life, somehow, it does. Outside of Church I live entirely with non-Orthodox people, and there inevitably ensues a conflict over God Himself — even if I say nothing, provoke no one! How to love??

    Or there are other conflicts of love: Mary vs. Martha, all those worldly/churchly “expectations” of service that pull away from the One Thing.

    Or the conflict of love of the Cross itself. How can I bear Him to die? Yet I must love and venerate that Cross which kills Him.

    Love is hard because it hurts.

  3. Michael Bauman says