On Valentine’s Day, it’s easy to think of love as a weak and meaningless force symbolized by pink candy hearts and carnations. But for people of faith, it’s worth remembering that the Biblical picture of love is very different than the romanticized versions of love that we see in our culture. Love is one of the words that comes up most often in the Bible—more than faith, more than prayer. And the way love is described is as the most true and real thing about existence. One Biblical writer says “God is love,” (1 John 4:1) and if this is true it means that at the core of reality, at the center of existence, before anything was created, for all eternity, existed love and only love. We human beings are invited to receive that love for ourselves, and then we are invited to allow that love to free us from fear and empower us to love other people.
It is easy to think that we can overcome our fears by working harder—working harder to become a good person, working harder in school or in the office, working harder in the social realm. But in one of the most famous Biblical passages on love, from Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth (1 Cor 13), Paul claims that without love, none of our work will amount to anything. What Paul is saying here is that even the highest public honors, even the highest spiritual powers, even the most amazing life of service is worth nothing without love.
As both a teenager and an adult, I have often retreated into a place of anxiety, which, when I have dug a little deeper, is a place of fear. Fear of failure. Fear of rejection. Fear of never measuring up. I can now see that those fears are driven by the fact that I often don’t feel sure that I am loved. Having a daughter with a disability exposed my fears, which opened me up to the possibility of love. Love breaks through the walls built up by fear and connects us to God, connects us to our true selves, connects us to one another. Love also connects us to the pain inside of us and the pain of a hurting and broken world. It connects us to pain and invites us to participate in the work of love, which is the work of healing.
We celebrate people like Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Ghandi, Malala Yousafzai– people in history who have chosen to trust love instead of fear. Most of us will never have anything like their global impact. But just imagine the small but meaningful impact you could have in your school, your family, your town, if you were free to choose love instead of fear.
If we want to be people who live in love and not in fear, we need to reshape our thinking. I want to suggest three ways you could start to do this:
- Admit your fears and the ways they fence you in. Then tell yourself that “love is stronger than fear” and envision the ways those fences are opened up.
- Spend five minutes every morning in a prayerful or meditative posture, reminding yourself that you are loved.
- Memorize a passage from the Bible about love and call it to mind whenever you are overcome with fear. 1 Corinthians 13, Ephesians 3:14-21, or 1 John 4 are good places to start.
What would it mean in your life to believe that you are deeply loved, and that love, not fear, can define your existence? Loved not because of your job performance or the cute treats you made for your kids on Valentine’s Day or the number on the scale. Loved not because of how many likes your Instagram post got today. Loved not because you prayed or read the Bible or cared for others. But loved because you were created by a God who is love, who loves you, and who will always love you with patience, with kindness, and with a love that never fails. When we sink our lives into the reality of that love, we then become free to love others with patience, with kindness, and with a love that never fails.
This post is a modified and shortened version of the chapel talk I gave at St. Mary’s school in Raleigh, NC last week.