What does it mean to love -- to really love? To love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, all your soul and all your strength? To love your neighbor as you love yourself?
Is this even possible?
I remember memorizing the corresponding Bible verses to this notion at varying points in my life. However, figuring out what it means to love something other than myself has been a much harder task.
Why is understanding love so difficult? Perhaps it was born in our youth, when we lacked perspective. Perhaps it crept in when we weren't paying attention. However it happens, there is a plaque on our heart that says "I am No. 1."
We feel, and it seems justified, that we are deserving of everything we receive. Parents provide for our food, our shelter and our clothes. There is cash to spare, and sometimes it just flows. We are the kings and queens of the universe.
Growing up means realizing how foolish our orientation has become, and our vision of the world shakes and begins to change. A new vision of things occurs.
We have potential. God knows this; otherwise we would not be here. There are resources for us to live good lives, and there are people surrounding us who need extra help and care. We have been given the choice to be either good rulers of our domains (however small or large it may be), or we can become tyrants, burning the world for our own comforts.
God's spirit breathes into us, loosening our stiff joints and opening our minds. Our eyes open and our heads lift, enabling us look up toward heaven. We realize our position in the universe (as a creature and not the creator), and we are freed from the burden of being a god in our own world. Then the light enters our hearts, and we feel life enter our beings. We stand before God as we are -- as his children, in love with a parent who loves us back. This perfect image of "love" itself becomes the most worthy goal of all our endeavors, and our former goals are transformed.
Money, knowledge, titles, honors, plans, vocations, homes, trinkets and entertainments are washed and made new. Wonder ultimately buries worry. God meets us, speaks to us, and we offer everything because we realize that, ultimately, we don't even own ourselves.
"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is -- his good, pleasing and perfect will." (Romans 12:2).
Being free means being in love. When individuals and societies fail to love, wars become reality, walls are built and words become venom. Storage containers are filled with atomic weapons, and militaries march to meet enemies who are no longer seen as human. Individually, we sit in separate rooms, live within our gadgets and leave home to find fulfillment by consuming other people like a drug. This will never satisfy the heart, and the body will wither away as it is abused seeking happiness and satisfaction.
To find happiness, to be fully free, to hope for a better future, we will have to live our whole being in a state of love. First for God, and because God made us all and loves us all, we will begin to see the people of the world as they were created -- as children of God worthy of being brought into the family. We must lower our opinions of ourselves, recognizing the potential God sees in each of us. It is by embracing each other that we have the potential to build a new nation on the greatest foundation, which is love.
Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him at twitter.com/dannonhill. Read his blog at www.danielgriswold.wordpress.com.