Love born of action
Scott Boyle | Thursday, January 30, 2014
I am walking a quiet path. It’s a dirt road, a windy way through a perpetual, wooded autumn. Hues of reds and golds shine as the sun dances through the trees. My eyes turn downward towards the unceremonious path, watching and listening as my feet crunch the occasional leaf scattered throughout this wooded forest.
It’s perfect fall weather. I am wearing a sweatshirt, the kind that fits just right and leaves me feeling like I’ve just been tucked into a bed of clean sheets, except that I am upright and walking around.
Pretty soon, a strange sensation comes over me. This is a dream, and in an instant, I begin to see myself on the path. I observe myself from a distance as my eyes and feet continue to follow the appointed way. Although brilliant sights and beautiful life surround me, I am oblivious. I make little sound, save the “crunch” of the occasional leaf that dances across my path.
I can’t bear to watch myself; I am embarrassed by my tunnel vision. I have an urge to go off the path, off-script, to do something that might help me to wake up to all that is around me. It looks like dangerous woods, but I don’t care. The promise of beauty draws me to want to neglect the appointed way. But the “me” that I observe looks quite content to follow the safety of the path. The “observing” me, however, is anything but content.
This is not a place I want to remain.
You see, I’ve met this oblivious “me” before. It’s the “me” of only a year ago, a “me” that looked quite content with life and his work in ministry, taking care of other people and their relationships.
This “me” took delight in giving advice to others, in talking about love, God and theology as they relate to the human condition. But, the only problem was that like the “me” in the dream, I was oblivious. As I sought to advise and help others sort through the joys and challenges of loving others, I began to realize that, in spending so much time helping others think through and live out their deepest questions, I hadn’t actually made time to think through my own questions. Who did I care about? Who would I fight for? Who did I love?
Realizing that I had few answers to these questions, I began to feel very empty. And let me tell you: you can’t fake empty. You can put leaves and branches over it and you can try to make it look like normal ground. But that never takes away the fact that the emptiness still exists.
Then I read this book called “Love Does” by Bob Goff. And there I encountered some words that made me sit up a little straighter: “Most people need love and acceptance a lot more than they need advice.”
And there it was, the error of not only my life in ministry, but also my life in general, staring me straight in the face. I had spent so much time in the clouds, theologizing and advising others about the nature of love that I had forgotten to come back down to earth to see what that love looked like in reality. I could talk about what love was, but I didn’t know what it actually did.
And the more I thought about it, the more I realized I needed some help. So, I thought about the best person I could think of to point the way: Jesus. I realized that while I may never be able to quote all that Jesus said, I can remember clearly what he did, that is, stretched out his arms on the cross to die for my (our) sake. And he didn’t need to give me any advice or complicated discourse about love to help me understand — what he did said it all.
I realized that the beautiful images, metaphors and explanations of love are not to be disregarded, yet they really resonate because they have been born through action, through sacrifice, through struggle. This is the heart of Christianity, I think: God’s love is born most fully through action, through the memory and celebration of Christ offering up his life on the cross.
And so, I think the love that I was missing, the love that will sustain me must be active, an offering up of my life, like Christ, to and for another. And it’s going to hurt and cost me to share my vulnerabilities with others outside of a romanticized, ministry setting. But it is here, I think, that the reality of true love will be born. Jesus showed us that this reality is worth it — that it is the way to perfect love — a way worth living and dying for.
Scott Boyle is a graduate of Notre Dame and a student in the Echo Faith Formation Leadership Program in the Notre Dame Institute for Church Life. He can be reached at [email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not
necessarily those of The Observer.