In the day and age when our young people often equate love with like, many questions have arisen within our younger demographic of what it truly means to love! Many are really trying to look for love, but it is unfortunate that many cannot find it among their peers. Why? While the full answer might be very complex and multi-layers, we have to remember that our society has often made us think that love is something sentimentally based and emotionally dependent, as if its sole purpose to exist is to maximize of hedonistic happiness. Sadly, because of our confusion and misunderstanding, love has lost its sacrificial value because it simply becomes a free choice and nice word to be used, but no one is willing to understand and live it out. Why should one choose to sacrifice one’s self and take on personal responsibility when love is just simply something that is supposed to be nice and only exists to serve and maximize our personal happiness?
The Lord reminded and taught me a personal lesson of love and what it means to love in one of my trips to Rome. When I found out that the Holy Stairs, the 28 steps that led the Lord Jesus Christ to the praetorium of Pontius Pilate, was going to be uncovered from Easter to Pentecost of 2019, I took out some money from my savings account and bought a ticket to experience it. This was the first time that the original steps were uncovered since 300 years ago so I thought it would be a great spiritual (and penitential) experience!
There were a lot of people there when I came. The line moved fairly well, so I initially thought that it should not be a hard experience. Even though we had to kneel and walk on our knees, the first few steps were easy. Nevertheless, when I got to the 12th step, I began to sweat profusely. Each step became harder because each one is deeply indented by hundreds of years of pilgrims on their knees (before they were covered with wooden planks to preserve the structural integrity). I literally thought I could not make it to the top and was scared of losing balance, falling down and hurting those behind me. I began to pray for perseverance and fixed my eyes on the large fresco mural of the crucifixion at the top. I asked the Lord to bear the physical pain for the love of Him just as He endured much more excruciating pain for the love of me!
That experience reminded me that love is not easy. Many times, love will require us to choose to embrace the hurts and endure the pains, just like the Lord Jesus Christ, because love is real and it is important. It is not easy to love, especially when it hurts much, especially when people had hurt or rejected us. He will ask us just as He asked St. Peter three times, “Do you love me?” (John 21:15-19) Perhaps, at times, we will not have a perfect or eloquent answer except the one that comes from the heart, even when we had failed Him over and over again: “Lord, you know that I love you!”
In my own life experiences, I was at times angry with God, not understanding why did He permitted or allowed things to happen in certain ways or at certain times. I had been frustrated with Him, as well as resentful or ignored Him because I thought He was ignoring me. Yet, when I asked Him to explain to me why or demanded that He would fix things properly and make life fine again, He really never gave me an answer. The Almighty often asked me a heartfelt question in return… He asked me many times, “Khoi, I love you. Is that not enough?”
It is a hard question for all of us to answer! What is enough for us? What do we really want from God? Will we ever be happy or content if He gives in to all of our demands and makes things alright? What is enough for us? Is His love and unconditional care not enough? As human beings, it is so tempting to never be satisfied, always wanting more, having things go well, our lives set, and get things our ways. Nevertheless, those are not real requirements to love! God truly loves us and the ways that He cares for us go beyond what we can comprehend or see at the moment. Perhaps the simplest way to define love is the intimate willingness to be content and restful as to make a personal choice to abide and remain with the One who loves us and whom we love, even at times when we wish for more, tempted to walk away, or failed to love in our weaknesses. If we look and understand love in a personal and intimate way, we will recognize that it will require much reconciliation and trust, allowing ourselves to be reconciled and forgiven by the Lord when we have failed to trust in Him when things do not make sense. True love will require us to receive His merciful forgiveness for we are weak, but also at the same times, personally will to commit ourselves as to amend and change our lives in response to His love.
So, ask yourself this question: “What does it take for me to love?” Not anyone else… You! What does it really take for you to love, and how will you choose to love? For me, it takes everything. It is not easy! Love requires much humility and giving of myself when I do not like it, especially when it gets tough. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that without true love, each and every one of us will lose what it means to be humans. We will lose our very humanity and its essential values when we do not know how to love because we will be and will treat everyone as products and pieces of the utilitarian game of manipulation and power.
Love is hard but it is crucial for our society, because only with love can we recognize the presence of God in one another. Why? When we look at one another deep from within, we can see that we are all made in His image and likeness, even the ones that we do not like or are challenging at the moment. We are called to love because God is love! Hence, it is our mission and our purpose in the midst of a very destructive and busy culture where we have been pulled by many things and lost focus on what it means to spend time in loving one another well.
Look at what is going on around you and I! The hearth, dinner table, or home is no longer a common, understood gathering place. Too many people do not know what it means to communicate except through 140-word texts, tweets, or social media posts. Too many nursing homes now become normal places of refuge for the elderly because they do not receive real cares at home or with their family. What used to be an extraordinary means of specialized cares is now something common and ordinary. Our society and its experts have been able to identify more sociological and psychological disorders, and we ourselves have become more politically correct and hypersensitive, yet we cannot help one another to overcome the struggles deep from within. In a sad, abused, righteous, vocal, but a loveless world, we have to dare and will to love in both words and actions.
Let us not use love as a word or something abstract, but truly mean what we say! How will you and I choose to love? How will we choose to love God first and foremost in order to learn to let go of ourselves and choose to love others as the Almighty has chosen to love us in spite of our weaknesses? Perhaps, all we can do is personally will and try putting our actions with our own words of prayerful response: “Lord, you know that I love you! Help my unbelief and lift me up when I am weak.”