Defining Love

I remember a sermon my pastor delivered one Sunday when I was in high school. The subject was God and love. For the first time, I heard that the Bible, in its original languages, uses several words to describe love. Our pastor gave us examples of Eros and Agape love. I was startled by these thoughts, as I had never considered different types of love. It struck me then that all too often, we seem to use the word “love” when another would do. I think that limitation is our loss. To borrow a line from Nicole Conns “Claire of the Moon”, the Eskimos have hundreds of words to describe snow. Why are we so limited in our language? What does “love” mean in general and to Christians specifically?

Think of your family or close friends. Which of these people can you say “I love you” to? My mother once told me “I may not always like you but I will always love you”. That statement devastated me at the time. I could not imagine my mother ever withdrawing her approval of me. Now, I know my partner and I are in my mother’s prayers but I have a sneaking suspicion her prayers run something like “Lord, please break up that relationship and bring those two women back to heterosexuality.” Perhaps I am selling Mom short, but the thought is still there. I now understand my mothers lesson though. I do not like my older brother, who seems very judgmental and hypocritical to me, but I do love him. He is family and I can tell him “I love you”. I feel less comfortable saying those words to friends. I have a few people I truly value as friends and I truly love. I do not feel that these friends would understand that phrase in the context of our relationship, however. Part of the reason is that some of my friends are straight women and I am not sure if they would misconstrue my words. Another concern is that some friends are colleagues from work. Our relationship does not offer an opportunity to tell them how much they and their friendships mean.

The word “love” to me is as overused as “friend”. How many of your “friends” can you count on in a pinch? How many friends do you open your heart to? Unfortunately, the only way to test our earthly bonds of love and friendship is through hard times and suffering. It seems that all too often, those friendships are lacking and our “friends” abandon us. Hardships are also the true test of our love for Jesus and our faith. I don’t know about you, but too often in these situations, my love and faith have been lacking. Rather than turning to Jesus in prayer, I have turned to “friends” who quickly walked away and I was left feeling abandoned. Jesus stood waiting with open arms, ready to dry my tears and light my path but I did not ask Him for His love or strength when I needed it. The door was unlocked and standing open but I did not even try walking down that hallway. I had heard all too often, from family and pastors, that Jesus could not love me because I am a lesbian. I grew up using the King James translation of the Bible. The KJV uses “charity” in place of “love” in I Corinthians 13:2-13. Once I was told to replace that “charity” with “love”, the verses touched my heart, for that is the love Jesus has for each of us and it is the love we should have for one another.

Christ has promised to walk with us in our times of trouble and sorrow. He is our family, yet He will never turn His back or cast us out for being gay. He is our closest friend, yet will not tell our secrets, dreams and fears to another. He will listen to our worries, dry our tears and rejoice with us in our successes. He will never be unfaithful. He will not cheat, lie or hurt us. All He asks is that we follow His plans for our lives and do His work. He asks us to love one another as He loves us. Christ lived a life here on earth to better understand our troubles and temptations and to show us the path we should follow.

He gave us other Christians as we need a “family” for support and encouragement, even as He needed His disciples (Matt. 12:46-50). We may find that in a church that is welcoming and affirming. This is becoming easier even though the Church is debating several issues regarding gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Christians. She is not certain we belong in the House of God, does not know if we should be able to speak the truths God has taught us in our walks with Him and can not decide if our unions deserve His blessing, as our parents were blessed.

It seems so obvious to me that God has already answered those questions through the life of Jesus. He has called us to a very special and difficult ministry. Jesus has asked us to teach our brothers and sisters that His love knows no boundaries. During His life on this earth, He saw no barriers He would not cross to touch the lives of those in need. He called Lazarus from the tomb to bring comfort to the dead mans sisters. This act convinced the high priest Caiaphas and the Pharisees that Christ should die or the Romans would destroy Judea (John 11:49-53). I think Jesus knew His actions were sealing His death warrant, yet He reached out to those who were hurting and gave them comfort. Id like to think He loves His gay and lesbian followers enough to risk His life again, were He here with us today. As I read and study about my faith, I become more firmly convinced that the Gospel applies as much to the GLBT community now as it did to the lepers and prostitutes then.

I hope each of us will find some way to live Christ’s truth today and that we will each pray for those in our “family” who are struggling to bring us inclusion in the Church. We each have lessons to teach and lessons to learn. Until the Church includes all of us in the body of Christ, She will be unable to do the work He has assigned. Jesus does love us and His life and lessons are ours to claim. We are included in the Kingdom of God. We may need to study and pray to believe it, but we are part of His flock and He does watch over us. Perhaps one of our lessons will be a new definition of “love”.