The ideas for my various posts come from all sorts of different places, but I’ve never before had an idea jointly inspired by a teen fiction sensation and a conversation with a monk. More specifically, Veronica Roth’s highly successful Divergent and a monk from the monastery up the road from me. The common theme was sacrifice and selflessness. From the monk there was the lesson that love is sacrifice and selflessness, and from Divergent the idea that selflessness is bravery. Given that Roth is also a Christian I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that these ideas have complimented each other well enough that by putting them together I think there’s a major point to push home.
The monk (I’d give a name, but I have no idea how to spell it) was insistent that the message that needs to be taken to the young people today is that love is not about personal happiness or pleasure; it’s not about making you feel good. It’s about sacrifice and giving yourself to the other person. He used a relationship as an example, saying that nowadays the message seems to be that people go into relationships to make themselves happy and as soon as they stop feeling that way they end it, whereas what he believes is love finds a way to work through the problems because your own happiness is not your priority. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you could never feel good, because I guess in the ideal situation both people would be prioritising the other which means you are both receiving love as well as giving. And in that you can see what love is all about, and, in a broader sense, what being human is. It’s these active relationships that involve input from both parties, a cycle of giving and receiving.
This is where selflessness and bravery come in. The love that I see modelled in the Bible is not easy. There’s the famous list of what love is in 1 Corinthians 13. Being patient and kind aren’t always easy. Rejoicing in the truth isn’t always easy. Not being envious isn’t always easy. This kind of love takes effort – a lot more effort than chasing after your own happiness and pleasure and giving up on something as soon as it ceases to satisfy you. This kind of love goes beyond a feeling or an emotion that can be located in chemicals in the brain, it becomes something you do. It’s an action. It’s a daily choice whether or not you’re going to show that sort of love. Of course, the feelings would ideally be there, especially in a romantic relationship or a friendship or something like that, but this sort of love should not rely on emotion to sustain itself, because it seems to me that this sort of love relies on the will more than anything else; the will to prioritise others above yourself. And that’s an act of bravery. It is safe and easy to only look out for yourself, to never do anything that makes you uncomfortable. But it takes courage to look beyond yourself and see what others need.
But the question begging to be asked is why? Why go through that trouble for other people? Why make things harder for yourself? I have to admit that it’s hard for me to come up with a convincing argument for that without bringing God into it (I have an unfortunate tendency to see nihilism as the only rationally viable alternative to some form of religion/spirituality), so if you don’t believe in God I’ll have to leave it up to you to decide whether or not selflessness is worth it, but if you do believe in God then I suppose my answer to that question is that we should love like this because God loved us like that and because actually, loving selflessly is genuinely the best way for us to live. As a Christian I believe that if Jesus had not loved us selflessly, sacrificially, then there would be no way for any of us to get to heaven. That’s the kind of love that God models and I believe there is incredible, life-changing power in that sort of love. In a more practical way, this kind of love is essential for a relationship with God (see, there’s relationship again – that two-way word that involves both parties) and on a more personal note I have to say that I would much rather give myself over to God and trust Him to guide me than to seek my own happiness and be disappointed again and again when the material things inevitably fail to satisfy. I guess this is all underpinned by my conviction that the life God promises is infinitely better than the life I could make for myself, however hard I try. And at the end of the day, being with God isn’t about trying, it’s about trusting.
I don’t know how well this message has come across but it’s the message that I believe people need to hear. This is the kind of love that people can search for all their lives and never find. Above all, it’s a love perfectly modelled in the cross of Christ and it’s a message that we Christians can’t keep to ourselves. One of the best things is that this sort of love isn’t something intellectual that we have to just tell people about (like I am now) but it’s something that we can show people. With a love based on action and will the best way to get this message across people is to do those things. Selflessness and sacrifice aren’t easy, that’s why they take bravery, but I believe that they’re essential to love, and that’s what the world needs to hear right now.