What’s love got to do with it?

The following essay was written by Heath Veuleman. Over the last decade, I have gone through many things where the call to love others is a real challenge. Heath has also experienced challenges in this area. In this essay, he articulates the importance of true Christian love wonderfully.

By Heath Veuleman

Yes, Tina Turner, what, in fact, does love have to do with it? It’s a secondhand emotion you say? Come on woman! Lemme just lay it on you – love has everything to do with it. Everything. On another note, your thighs, or pones where I come from, are glorious – glorious – keep on rolling, rolling down that river girl! Alas, I digress…

I’m tired of pious pied pipers (score alliteration points for me). I tire easier than most because I used to be one of those pious pied pipers. Hi, my name is Heath, and I’m a recovering Pharisee. That’s right, I said it. I’m a recovering Pharisee. I’ve been in recovery since late 2005 and I’ve fallen off the wagon more than once, but thankfully I’ve been sober for a handful of years now. It’s baby steps.

Religious addiction. I thrived on control and being “right,” more than I thrived on loving myself or anyone else. You might think, well Heath, perhaps you loved yourself too much, you were a narcissist, weren’t you? Well, not exactly. See, as many pious pied pipers are, we don’t love ourselves at all, we love an ideal self. We love who we think we are, who we really want to be, or who we think we ought to be. We live in a dichotomous world. It is a world separate and distinct from reality. We don’t see ourselves as we are, we see ourselves as we believe that we ought to be. Our real and ideal selves never merge, unfortunately living, perilously, disparate lives.

As another aside – there’s no freedom in any addiction, there is only bondage and torment (most of the time self-inflicted). Religious addiction brings the same pain and woes that other addictions bring. It’s sad, really.

One day, as I went to my therapist’s office and I sat there, I felt as though the world was crushing me, I was in utter despair. And he asked, “What are you feeling?” “I want to be liked,” I said. “I know that I’m loved, I hear it all the time, but I don’t feel like anyone likes me,” I cried and I cried. And I sobbed and I sobbed. As I sat on the couch weeping, and his jaw ajar, I continued, “I feel like God is obligated to love me, but I don’t feel like he likes me, do you know what I mean?” “He’s obligated to love us, that is who he is, but you know…a friend is a person who wants to be around you, who enjoys being around you…not because they have to, but because they want to.” Our conversation did not resume and we rescheduled another appointment. However, that day was the beginning of the end of my religious addiction. I came to understand that I had a corrupted faith and a misunderstanding of who God really was, in short, my faith had a virus and had become toxic. God began to repair me soon after.

I had wounded people in the name of Christ. I was so harsh and judgmental, so arrogant, so flippant about people’s lives and struggles. And for what reason? None. I believed I was doing what was “right,” I believed I was defending God, doing what he wanted…I later learned that God did not need me to be his public defender, that he could take care of himself. The problem is that I thought this was all about God, but really it was about me. It was about me being right, and about me proving my rightness to everyone else. And at the heart of this problem, this desire to consistently be right, is a wounded ego, a person with very low self-esteem and self-value, and a person who is desperate to be loved.

So what does love have to do with it, Tina? Keep reading. The way God brought me out of this world of have to’s, shoulds, ought to’s, and obligations was through this question I asked over and over – “God, who in the heck are you?” And a subsequent question, “What in the heck do you want with me?” While I had a great family, a wonderful childhood, a great church that I had grown up in and helped foster my understanding of who God was, I allowed my own ego and pride to derail my faith. Unfortunately, as I went to College I became infatuated, unknowingly, with the man in the mirror. I had become self-absorbed and all about myself. And the worst part was I didn’t even know it. Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!

What the Holy Spirit brought me to over and over again as God repaired my faith was this: Who is God? God. Is. Love. Very simple. Almost too simple – but, it’s not – it’s the truth. God is love. That’s exactly what I learned. The problem is that I did not know the real meaning of love. Heck, most people don’t know the meaning of love. What does love have to do with marriage, when in evangelical life over half our commitments to love end in divorce? What does love have to do with pain and suffering? Oftentimes, growing up in the South you hear, “I do this because I love you…” then immense pain follows. How does this shape our understanding of love?

What about our language and speech? Think of how freely we use the term love – “I love pizza.” “I love this T-shirt.” “I love this sunset.” Do we really love any of those things? No, of course, we don’t. The truth of the matter is that we no longer understand what love means anymore. We have completely redefined love, and define it in this hedonistic arbitrary fashion where it changes moment to moment. What does love have to do with it? Well, today most people have no clue to be honest. And neither did I. I had to re-understand love. God had to communicate it to me differently. So…what does love have to do it? Let’s start with what God gave me, Heath, when I asked. He brought me to the most cliche and trite scripture ever (at least in my mind then), in fact, at the time I laughed and thought to myself, “Wow, really God, I expected more.” He brought this passage of scripture from 1 Corinthians 13:

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

At first, I really didn’t understand, because the word “love” still didn’t really mean anything to me. It had become a colloquialism. It had become nothing more than a greeting, a salutation. So, almost immediately after God brought me to 1 John 4:8
But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
And for some reason when I read this scripture my mind went back to my undergraduate philosophy professor, Dr. Gerry Heard, and his lectures in Logic – and the old Modus Ponens propositional logic formula. Basically, it’s the “if, then rule.” This probably doesn’t make much sense to anyone, but trust me, it made plenty of sense to me. And here’s the practical application of modus ponens in this case: If God is love, and love is patient, then God must be patient. This was like lightning in my mind. My heart was suddenly stirred. Patient is something I knew. Patient is something I could identify as a quality that I desired in a friend. Patience. Yeah, so that’s love? And God is love? And God is patient? Wow. Whoa. So if God is love, and love is kind, then that means God is kind. Then the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes!!

For some reason, this was a huge help for me. It gave me a definition of love. It told me that love, did, in fact, have everything to do with it. This love I had heard about became quite real to me. If God is love, and love is not jealous, or proud, or boastful or rude — that means God is not jealous, or proud or boastful or rude. What an imagination! The infinite, creator God, became very personal and intimate with me as I continued to read. I felt a tenderness that I feel every time I think about that evening. It’s a tangible, pervasive feeling that overcomes me everything I think, say, or write – God is love, and love does not demand its own way, and that means God does not demand his own way. The lyrics of the old hymn flood my mind and heart – “softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me.”

The definitions of love are found right there in this scripture that we’ve used so endlessly and capriciously –
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

But it didn’t end there, now that I understood what love meant, now that I had a firm grasp of reality, that God cared for me so intimately and tenderly, and he is the definitive qualities of such a love – then how does that define me? Well, as a disciple of Christ, I want to imitate Him at every turn. I want to be in constant communication with Him and surrender every aspect of my life to Him in such a way that people are reminded of Christ and not Heath when they are around me. So how does this work? Well, by the grace of Christ, I want to see myself in the words of the Scripture. If God is love, and love is patient, then God is patient, and if I want to be like God, then I must be patient. If God is love, and love is kind, then God is kind, and if I want to be like God, then I must be kind. I must strive to read the scripture like this: Heath is patient and kind. Heath is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Heath does not demand its own way. Heath is not irritable, and Heath keeps no record of being wronged. Heath does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Heath never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

The frustrating part, at least for me, is that I can’t just turn this on. I can’t just manifest love. I can’t just will love. The Lord must work it out in me, and it takes time. And it is painstaking. But I have to conspire with God to be ever intentional about my behavior and my speech and my thinking to choose love – to choose patience and kindness, to choose peace and not strife, to choose the truth and not injustice, to choose faith and hope, and to choose perseverance. It’s an active daily choice, an active hourly choice, heck, it’s an active minute-by-minute choice. And look – I fail – a lot, but I’m reminded by the tenderness of Christ – because he’s not like me, trying to be love, HE IS LOVE. So, he already is patient, he already is kind, he already is just and will endure forever. What a thought!

There will be those that rail against these thoughts. They are the religious pied pipers. They are the Pharisees. The one’s interested more in being right, than being love. Love brings us to an understanding that our right-ness is nothing. Being right is a “loud gong or clanging symbol” and it’s “nothing.” Love is everything. And the very definition puts us in second place to everyone else, and yet God elevates our minds to understand that second place is laudable, that second place is wonderful, and that second place is exactly right where we should be.

Recently, I’ve been confronted with the Pharisees in an organized fashion. It has really shaken my faith in my polity and my understanding of our collaborative ministry together. But I’ve been reminded at every turn, love, love, love is everything. I’ve been tempted to re-enter the mindset of being “right” and “showing” people the error of their ways. I laugh at that now as I write. What dangerous thoughts! Our posture should never be a pointed finger, instead, our posture should be outstretched arms. We shouldn’t be ready to smite someone, no not at all, we should really be in a position to reach out, grab someone, and bring them close to us, and hold them tightly. We should be postured to love.

So Tina, what’s love got to do with it? Everything. It’s the foundation for everything we believe and do. It’s the undulating rhythm that causes us to live, be, and breathe. Love is everything.

This essay is from our Anastasis Series where we resurrect articles from the past that are either still relevant today or can be easily updated. This piece was first published on March 28, 2013, and has been lightly edited and updated.

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  • “we don’t love ourselves at all, we love an ideal self”…. Interesting!

  • Tell Heath I said “Thank you”.
    It’s so good to be reminded of how my Father loves me, and how he loves the rest of the people on this planet as well.
    It makes me want to be more like Him.

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