Love Is Hard Work

I’ve heard this so many times: Why can’t I find love? What’s wrong with me? The expectations of some fairy tale notions wound us and wound our children. Add to that, the utter chaos in today’s society where love is reduced to mere feelings or, worse, just physical desire, and you have the perfect recipe for societal disaster!

A perfect example of this warped understanding of love is the “Love is Love” foolishness. This mental childishness is proof of a real lack of understanding of what love is and how hard love is to do, especially when love means saying “no” or saying “that will hurt you.”

And that, dearest, is precisely the evil one’s intentions. Because the end result of these fantasies is the depressing lie that there is no such thing as love and that always leads to “there is no such thing as God.” Game, set, match the Kingdom of Darkness! The sad reality is that this “too small” notion of profound love leaves many of us hollowed out by feelings of failure or even unworthiness.

Look at our Gospel Lesson today in Matthew 18:10-20:

The Lord said, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven. For the Son of man came to save the lost. What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven, for where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

Look at the cost of a radical commitment to true communion, to true love.

First, we can’t dismiss even the little ones from our attention. Our commitment to true love, to radical communion, means we live out the costly reality of paying attention, preferring to consider the “lost sheep” worth our efforts to find them. This kind of attention, of attentiveness, is difficult in a world gripped by the notion “Well, don’t I deserve to be happy?”

Next, this true love, this radical communion insists on honest relationships. If your brother wounds you, don’t be passive-aggressive. Don’t pretend. Be honest and go to your brother. Risk the dangers of honesty and realize that radical communion means a wound in one member of the body is a wound for the whole body! Don’t take our communion for granted. Do the hard work of love, of communion, and don’t let anything break this bond of love.

So, what do you do if the other won’t reconcile? Radical communion, true love insists on honesty! We must tell the truth about reality, and sometimes that means that if the other is hell-bent on division, schism, and a betrayal of love then we have to tell the truth about this and say the other has chosen to truly be “other” from us. But watch how Christ closes this passage! He insists that our radical communion, our true love is liberated from time and space. And He promises that where radical communion is practiced, He is there as well adding His strength, His love, to our faithfulness to communion in love!

On this Monday of the Holy Spirit, we recall the purpose of Christ sending us the Holy Spirit, to lead us into all truth. And truth is reality, not a delusion or opinion or even our feelings. Truth is a Person, and that Person is Jesus Christ. And the Spirit has been given to the world to lead us to Truth, Jesus Christ. That means Truth will always stand in contrast to error or even my desires. Truth is meant to shape and mold us and anyone whose ever gone through growing pains knows, that can hurt. It is a particular childishness to suggest that Truth and Love are never meant to make us uncomfortable or even angry. Being confronted with Truth means being ready to be made uncomfortable and the willing and childish notion that love means always “affirming” even the most insane delusions is the opposite of Truth and will always cause chaos and destruction. All one has to do is look at the madness we see today in our society gone crazy with this infantile focus on “my” truth and you can see what I mean. When you embrace the madness, you side with error and darkness.

Today, do you experience honest relationships? Is your commitment to communion and true love calling you to the hard work of love? The work that says I will allow my relationships to shape me into a more Christ-like person is the whole point of the hard work of communion. In Christ, you have all the power, strength, and motivation to become this person who loves well and is willing to pay the price to build communion with others. Now all that’s left is the hard work of applying this wisdom to your life every day, to be Orthodox on Purpose!

P.S. Blessed are You, O Christ our God, who made fishermen all-wise, sending upon them the Holy Spirit and, through them, netting the world. O Loving One, glory to You.

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