By Kari Miller
With Valentines Day here and gone, love is swirling in the air, and yet, do we have any better understanding of how to love deeply and purely than we did yesterday?
When the people in ancient times asked Jesus what the most important spiritual truth was, he said to love God and love your neighbor.
Yet 2,000 years later, we still struggle to understand exactly what it means to love an abstract being and how to love the imperfect people around us.
It gets so confusing when you can love pizza, your new vacuum and your mother. Intrinsically, we know that there are chasms of difference between loving your new vacuum and loving your mother, but love still seems like a word that everyone knows but no one can really define. However, when we have been loved deeply from the heart, we know it.
It is true that we love best when we have been deeply loved. The apostle John went so far to say that our only capacity to love comes from the fact that God loved us first. I was told my whole life that God loved me, but it always sounded a little like Santa Claus seeing everything I did. It seemed like a fanciful abstract idea that held no weight in real life. I wanted to believe that God loved me, but how would I ever know that? I know he died for us, but that included everybody in the world. I could understand how God loved mankind, but did he really love mein all my faults and uniqueness? The Church told me I was supposed to feel full of Gods love, but secretly, I wondered how would I ever know if God really loved me just me?
Several years ago, I lived in Arlington, Virginia. One day in early spring as the cherry blossoms were bursting out of their buds, I decided to go for a run at a local community center. I loved coming home from work, putting on my running shoes and heading up to the center, especially on beautiful spring days. The center had an outside track that circled an open grassy park where people often played frisbee or sat on blankets, reading the paper. There were no trees or plants of any kind; it was just a wide-open grassy plain with a track that surrounded it. The park was completely fenced in with only one way in and one way out.
That warm day, I started jogging and asking God the question I had always struggled with, “Do you really love just me, and if you do, how would I know?” I then ran around the bend and continued down the far side of the track. I immediately noticed a very old African American woman sitting on a park bench beside the track. As I got closer to her, a strong, almost overpowering, thought entered my mind: “Go talk to her.” I shook my head and said, No way. I dont want to stop. I have a good pace going. What would I say to her? It would be too weird.
Instead of this thought sinking back into the recesses of my mind, it got stronger, and as I approached the bench where the woman sat, this thought seemed to press hard into my mind. It was an odd feeling; so, I stopped and stood still. I looked over at her. She was old with gray wisps of hair and a face that seemed to hold the wisdom of a life filled with joy and tragedy. Her face had a kindness to it, and I realized as I stared at her that she was reading a large print Bible.
I walked over to her and sat next to her on the park bench. I didnt say anything. I just sat there and looked at her. She looked up, smiled at me, and commented on the weather. I smiled and told her how much I loved the sunshine. As I looked up towards the sun, she grabbed my hands and held them in hers. I jumped slightly. I was not expecting her to touch me. I turned my head quickly toward her, opened my eyes wide, and stared at her in silence. She then looked deep into my eyes and said, “Jesus loves you. He really loves you.” In a high-pitched squeal, I said, “What? What did you say?” She repeated it, and I was so shocked I pulled my hands away, backed away from her and went back to the track. I started to run and it felt like my heart was going to beat out of my chest.
About twenty seconds later, my impolite reaction caught up with me, and I was suddenly ashamed of how I treated this kind woman.
So, I stopped, turned around and looked toward the park bench.
She wasn’t there.
I searched the grassy plain; she wasn’t there, either.
She hadnt passed me on the track, and she wasnt walking in the other direction.
My heart was beating so loud I could hear it my ears. I ran back to the bench and searched for her again. Then, I began to ask others who were sitting in that area if they saw the woman.
Not one person remembered seeing anyone like that. I asked everyone in the park. No one had seen her. Then I asked the front office if they had seen her. They told me that they didn’t remember anyone with that description. I searched for an hour for her, and it was like she disappeared out of thin air. All I know is that the divine came into the ordinary in that moment, and it still makes me shiver. I think I saw an angel that day, and I think God sent her to tell me me that he loves me. That was the first time God came into the reality of life to let me feel his love for me.
Like any great love affair, it grows as each person tries to out-love the other. As God has loved me in tangible deep ways, I have now begun to ask the question, “How can I love him?” I want to die trying to out-love God. In Matthew 25, Jesus says the best way to love him is to care for the sick, clothe the poor, to feed the hungry, to give a drink to the thirsty, to look after the stranger and the prisoner. In Isaiah 58, God says the best way to honor him is to love the poor and create justice for the oppressed.
Let God love you, and then, give God a Valentine he will never forget shelter for the cold, food for the hungry, justice for the oppressed, love for your enemies or healing for the sick.
“We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19
Kari Miller is a 4th grade teacher who is passionate about loving Jesus and loving others. She longs to inspire others to love the least, the lost and the left out. She strongly suggests that you check out the following links:
Hope in the Dark
International Justice Mission