By: Josiah Mohr
Hold on, just sit tight, and don’t you dare roll your eyes. I want to have a real, genuine discussion on the most significant—but also the most overused—word in the English language: love. I do not intend to have a conversation about love in the context of romance, as you may immediately assume, but as the ever-appropriate, universally applicable, divine and humanitarian action of love. Love can be a tricky word, but I’m asking you to move past its trivial application, its familiar application, and its romantic application so we can get to the ultimate expression of this powerful verb—its living application. Now, you and I both know that we could come up with a hundred different ways to express love in our daily lives. All of those random individual expressions, however, are not what I want to discuss. What I want to discuss is not just living a life with love or even a life in love, but living a life of love, as an embodiment of the greatest of human and divine expressions.
I suppose at this point you are probably thinking that this discussion is far more vague and cerebral than you care to consider, but I would challenge you that this very applicable discussion has the potential to be all too relatable, not to your love life, but to your life of love. Finally, I must clarify that I claim no expertise in living a life of love, but I can say that I do have some observations and insights from my experiences that I challenge you to look for in your own.
Living a life of love is far more than a momentary decision or emotional response. Rather, it is a process that is not without effort. The first step is the internal expression of empathy. Our brains are amazing creations of unfathomable potential, one of greatest of which is our potential to embody—to a remarkable degree—the state of mind of another human being. Empathy, in its truest form, is the application of this ability to effectively mirror another’s emotional, mental, and sometimes even physical state at a cost to ourselves, taking on the pains and joys of another through shared or similar experiences. The degree to which this can occur is obviously dependent on each of our own life experiences, but none of us are outside of the whole of human experience, and we each have the ability to come, in empathy, to a place of yearning to understand the pains and joys of another person.
It is critical, however, that the process of love does not end in empathy, for empathy is but the initial awareness necessary to inspire the activity that must follow. This next step, I believe, is the hardest step to take, for it is truly what living a life of love looks like rather than what it simply feels like. I can tell you from experience that even the most externally emotionless person can have the greatest capacity to empathize with others. However, most of us are all too comfortable to stop there, to watch pain unfold and think to ourselves or explain to our friends the sincere feeling of empathy we have for those suffering.
It’s not that we don’t really care, for we truly do want to see them become a better person and end up in a better place because of their experience. We often even wholeheartedly commit to adamantly pray that God works in their life through the experience. Even if we really do follow through on our promise of prayer, we don’t realize that the work God could do in that person’s life may require our own involvement. It wasn’t really until some recent conversations with some friends of mine that I found myself all too often guilty of this deep yet unapplied love, because as much as we can internally empathize with someone else, that is not the action of love. This cannot be where love stops, for we have only just become aware.
So what, then, does it take to “love thy neighbor as thyself” as Matthew 12:31 commands? What does it take to “carry each other’s burdens” as Galatians 6:2 requires? What does it take for us to truly, earnestly, yearningly, and actively love one another as 1 John 3:18 suggests? Love will not be comfortable, nor is it meant to be. The greatest example and definitive standard of love is the life of Jesus Christ, who established an entirely new paradigm for what it means to love. His time on earth, as the pure embodiment of love (1 John 4:8), changed the way we are expected to love each other. This is the risk and requirement of love: that we sacrifice everything—time, money, resources, status, or opportunities—all for the sake of others.
If we are to apply this sacrificial practice, let us look no further than 1 Corinthians 13. As cliche as “the love chapter” may be when it comes to relationships, it is without question the definitive explanation of what a life of love looks like in practice, not just for the hopeless romantics but for humanity as a whole. I could quote the whole chapter here, but I will let you take the initiative to read it as you see necessary, perhaps as a first step toward improving your own life of love. After all of the expectations for the practice of love have been laid out, a fascinating and challenging verse defines the result of love in 1 Corinthians 13:12. “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I will know fully.” The result of love is the deepest understanding of another person, meeting them “face to face” in the midst of their struggle, that you may “know fully,” through the lens of love, the perspective of another. Let us then, together, take the time to become empathetically aware of the struggles around us, and then let us truly, with action in sacrifice, love each other.