A teenager approaches you, believing you have wisdom and experience, and asks you, “How can I tell if I’m in love?” “Finally,” you say to yourself. “This is the moment I’ve been waiting for all my life.” While the temptation is overwhelming, you restrain yourself admirably. You don’t ask, “What’s her name?” or “What’s his name?” Instead, you smile as you struggle to find the right words. Your memory takes you back to your own youth when you struggled with the same question yourself. Perhaps you knew an adult you could talk to, a teacher, a coach, a mentor, a parent. More likely, you went to your friends, who knew as much as or less than you. Or you pretended you knew what was going on and faked your way through the minefields of adolescence.
The important thing is you survived, a little shell-shocked perhaps. You learned many important life lessons that you must now pass on to others. You can’t let all that wisdom go to waste after all the trouble you went through. Now is the time to share your experience and wisdom. Would you mention the butterflies in your stomach, the cold sweats, the elevated heart rate, dry mouth, sleepless nights, dizziness, confusion, incoherent speech, the unexplainable loss of memory or appetite, a sudden loss of your sense of time and space, the occasional loss of bladder control? And let’s not confuse falling in love with dementia or menopause. Some symptoms may be similar. I suppose the difference lies in the specific combination and varying intensities of the symptoms.
What does it really mean to be “in love?” The language we use to describe the movements of the heart can help us gain insight into what it’s like to be “in love.” When one is in love, they speak of a desire, a burning desire, a yearning, a longing to be with the object of their love. That is usually what gets all the publicity. It is what Hollywood glorifies. It is exciting, glamorous, magical, marketable. It makes grown men break into poetry and song, and is important in determining marketing trends for the greeting card and boxed chocolate industry. But for our purposes, we should consider love as more than just a hormonal surge. John 3:16, that familiar bible verse that shows up at most sporting events, declares: “For God so loved the world that he gave us his only Son, that whoever believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” Yet even before God loved the world, we believe that “God is love; and whoever dwells in love dwells in God, and God dwells in him” (1 John. 4: 16). God’s love then is more than a desire, more than a yearning or longing. It is a free choice, a free act of God’s will, determined by nothing less than the very nature of God. Nothing beyond God has power to influence God’s choice. The very reason for our existence is because God loves.
With Jesus’ baptism by John at the Jordan, a new era has dawned. It is a time of new hope and promise. “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” What exactly does the baptizer mean – “Behold the Lamb of God.” Is a lamb the expression of love that only God is capable of? A lamb is a young animal, gentle, cuddly, curious, fragile. But a lamb is also the symbol of God’s covenant with Israel, the innocent victim sacrificed in our place. We were never even close to deserving forgiveness, but God sent his Son to be the innocent victim of sacrifice in our stead. Jesus Christ died because of our sins, we were taught. But even more important still, Jesus Christ died for our sins because of his great love for us. Our sins did not send him to death. His boundless unmerited love for us alone was why he willingly embraced his passion and cross.
The prophet Isaiah refers to Israel as God’s servant, an image of Jesus Christ sent to raise the tribes of Jacob, to restore the survivors of Israel, to reconcile God’s people, and not only Israel, but all the children of Adam and Eve. “I will make you a light to the nations that my salvation may reach the ends of the earth.” Light shining to the far corners of the world speaks powerfully of God’s love extending in all directions, to the just and the unjust, the saint and the sinner, the hungry of spirit and the hardened of heart.
A steadily burning candle is fed by its own wax and wick. It can only stay lit if it is consumed in the process. The Lamb of God was sent among us exactly for this, that by surrendering his life, we might come to know God’s light and love. Love, as Jesus Christ shows us, does not spare itself. It’s the difference between bacon and eggs. The chicken gives up its eggs. The pig gives its very self. Well, neither of them really gives anything up freely. But a candle fulfills its purpose only when it burns, spending itself for the benefit of others. The more perfect and complete image yet is of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who gave his very life that we might have life in abundance.
God loves us immensely and desires even more for us. All who extend kindness, compassion, even patience, and constructive criticism, extends to us an experience of God’s love which breaks through our selfishness. So, when speaking to a young person about your experience of being “in love,” don’t be limited to the Hollywood version. Explore deeper the love you come to know in Jesus Christ, a supernatural love which fuels your own love for others, for spouse and children, for neighbor and stranger, for the poor and those in need. True love spends itself for others. God’s love is made known to us in Jesus Christ who gives his life that we might know life in abundance. Do you spend your life loving God? Do you spend your life loving others? The Eagles sing, “Love will keep us alive.” Instead, I say, “True Love will eat you alive.” Graphic but powerful. And I’m keeping my day job. Hallmark will never hire me.
Rolo B Castillo © 2023