My friend and our church’s youth director, Kelsey, has a beautiful vision for the youth in our community. Her vision is that each student would have one safe, close adult relationship (outside of a parent) and that the youth group would be a community where students feel known, loved, and safe to wrestle with all of the things with which adolescents commonly wrestle. What more could you ever have wanted / needed as an adolescent, right?!
In connection with this vision, she does a particularly brilliant thing for a season of youth group once per year.
It’s called ‘Tough Questions.’ She asks the youth and their friends to write down questions they want to discuss. Then each adult volunteer / mentor for youth group takes one to tackle in 15 minutes on a regular Wednesday evening gathering.
This Wednesday, that adult is me.
And I got / chose, “What does it feel like to love?”
I’m going to take a wild guess that the student who wrote the question might be hoping to hear all about emotional and sexual orgasm. I’m not sure yet if he/she will get to hear anything about that.
But in my mind and heart, I keep coming back to John 15: 12-13. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Far more than a cry for actual, physical death in the violent defense of another, Jesus is defining love simply but profoundly. It is self-sacrifice. It is forgetfulness of self. It is humbly discovering the needs and desires of another, then letting those needs and desires take generous, prudent precedent over one’s own.
There are many people in my life who I say I love. And I really think I do! They’re easy to like; we hardly have conflict; we think similarly about most things; the hours fly by when I’m with them. But if it my love for them doesn’t cost me a thing, ever, (no money, no time, no service, no discomfort, no bravery, no working through hard things, no tears, no hurt, no outrage, etc.) then maybe my love for them is all about me after all. Maybe the affinity I feel is self-love after all. Maybe, when all is said and done, I love them for what they bring to me. Maybe I don’t really love them at all.
Then there are other people in my life who I say that I love. At least I really try to love them. I want to love them. They’re difficult to like; we are often on eggshells; we think differently about nearly everything; I tire of being with them. My love for them costs me a lot, over and over again. I’m often making sacrifices for them. I’m repeatedly putting myself – my to-do list, my ever-streaming thoughts, my hunger, my priorities – second to theirs.
If Jesus is right, then I actually love the second kind of people more than the first kind of people!
I always thought love felt like: fondness, warmth, easy affinity, romantic sparks, absence of conflict, laughter…
I still think love can feel like all that.
But maybe the greatest love feels like: humble-pie, deference, careful attentiveness, asking heartfelt questions, thoughtfulness of other, prayerful concern in the ‘slow and steady recesses of one’s mind.’
Wish me luck telling middle schoolers about that tomorrow night.