A C H R I S T I A N W H I T E P A P E R
O N Y O U N G L O V E
GRACE LUTHERAN CHURCH
OF BOWIE, MD.
This paper was originally prepared as an outreach for Grace Lutheran Church when I was serving as its Evangelism Chairman. I authored the paper after noting the negative training being provided at a youth congress. There was an obvious need for a training which addressed where we are going, instead of merely pointing out things to avoid.
DEFINING A NEED
The media presents love as unending passion; but that seems so limited. Surely love is more than that. Trying to understand love can be very confusing, and the presentation by the media only makes things worse. This work examines what love is and how to deal with it.
Starting with the lesson of enabling love, we will trace the love expressed by Jesus to love in the Christian family, to love in the blood family, and finally to the love between two people.
To that, we will add some common sense in interpreting what the Christ taught, and will end up with a few general rules and approaches, which if followed will guide a person to their own best interests.
Christ taught love in the best practical way, he demonstrated it. He showed the depth of his love for us when He allowed Himself to be sacrificed for our salvation. He spoke of His divine love relationship with the Father. "I am in Him and He is in me." It is the same union which he offered to the Apostles; that they could be in Him and He in them. Christian love involves spiritual union.
We call the love which was demonstrated "enabling love" because we are enabled through Christ's example. Without His Example, we would not even know that there was such a love.
The love which Christ demonstrated to us is not a feeling, nor is it like the passion between a man and a woman. It is rather an ultimate acceptance of us, and a willingness to be one with us. It goes beyond liking us or giving something to us, it goes to a sharing of ourselves. This is the heart of Christian love, a depth of trust which will support a spiritual union, an acceptance of another as a part of ourselves.
Knowledge of spiritual union is provided to us as a gift from our Father. By this, you may be sure that there is nothing better.
THE DEPTH OF CHRISTIAN LOVE:
In Christian love you trust some other person with yourself, the ultimate commitment. Gaining that commitment from someone else involves a similar commitment on your part. In every other relationship we are captives within ourselves; not fully understood by, nor fully understanding, others. With Christian love we are really with someone, and not merely accompanying them.
Where love by every other definition can be fickle, and easily shift from one person to another, Christian love endures. It has permanence in it.
A relationship based on Christian love is enduring. The Christian love of a spouse involves a sharing of yourself with them and accepting them as a part of yourself. Such a sharing requires becoming a part of one another, and being a part of one person means that you are less a part of any other.
Christ leads the Christian family. As Jesus said of his flock, "they know my voice." They accept the Lordship of Jesus, and this is Christian love in the family of God. Christians strive to be one with Jesus; and through him one with God, and with the other Children of God.
Again, Jesus said "as you do unto the least of these, you do unto me." This speaks of the very real and meaningful unity between Christ and his flock. It is a spiritual union where each entrusts their whole being to the other.
Perhaps the most enduring human love is a blood relationship within a nuclear family. Brothers, sisters, and parents accept each other as family, there is a feeling of union, and a feeling of trust. Even this limited love goes beyond feelings. It rests on faith in one another and is very stable.
A mother's love for a child is one of the best documented of all blood love relationships. A mother starts out sharing all of her child's life. The unity is so strong that a mother is often willing to suffer or even die to prevent harm to her child.
THE LOVE OF A CHILD:
The love of a child is something of a marvel. As Christ put it, "Suffer the children to come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven." Jesus said that only as children shall we enter into Heaven.
The primary characteristic of a child's love is obvious. It is free, there is no price tag on it, and you can not buy it. It is based on faith.
When a child grows into a young adult, and out of parental protection, the innocent acceptance of others is lost. The trust of a child is turned into a very reasonable concern for the motives of others. The purity of childhood faith is replaced by the cynicism of reasons. The evil in this world seems to make this necessary as a matter of self defense; we have to protect ourselves from each other.
In Christian love, most of this trust is regained. You again have someone who is intimately faithful because they are one with you. In Christian love, the risk of sharing your life becomes acceptable.
The first and the simplest demonstration of the shift away from childhood is the crush or puppy love. This can be an attachment or fascination focussed upon some larger-than-life movie or television personality, or it can be someone who is just there. It is marked by intense feelings, and by a distance maintained between the young person and the object of affection.
The reason for the distance is obvious when you realize that it is not the other person who is the real object of the crush, but the young person's view of who the object of affection should be. It is not a love relationship as it is not founded upon a knowledge of who the person is, but upon who they are perceived to be. The crush may even be maintained where there is proof that the person is nothing like the object of affection.
A person's first involvement is usually by inventing someone worthy of their trust. They are likely to maintain that view without regard to reality; it feels good to care so deeply.
A first love is not something to act upon, as it has no purpose in creating a real relationship. It exists only in innocence, and its purpose is found in learning to handle the new emotional equipment which comes with growing and maturing.
LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT:
Love at first sight is like first love in that it is not based upon any reality of who the object is, but only upon who that person appears to be. It is a feeling, and not a relationship. In this, it is not Christian love, it is something less.
Like a first love, it is something to be enjoyed. It is feeling, it is being alive.
Unlike the first love, it is not something simply to be enjoyed, but it may well be something which can grow into a meaningful relationship. To grow, it must be based on that other person, and not on who you want them to be. This attraction is useful if it provides you with the incentive to get to know one of God's children.
Without that incentive, the feeling would have little purpose. Unless it leads toward Christian love, all you get is the pleasure of seeing one of God's children as you would want to see them. It is good enough only for the moment.
PASSION IN ITS PLACE:
One of the most confusing aspects of growing into adulthood is the onset of passion; the intense emotions of an adult which are often driven by physical desires. Passions know no boundaries except your own emotional capacity, and they can be extremely alluring. They are intoxicating (meaning mildly poisonous).
First love is passion. Love at first sight is passion. Passion is used to describe any powerful emotion, and especially those related to physical attraction.
The problem of passion is the same as was discussed for first love and love at first sight. It is based upon an object, and not upon the union of lives. It is less than what God has enabled you to receive. Passion should be enjoyed; it should not be the purpose for a person's life.
A most extreme example of passion is lust, a desire to use someone else for your personal satisfaction. Lust is passion based only upon physical attraction. It is distinguished by a desire for treating someone else as your property instead of as a person. It denies their right to their own bodies, it denies love.
Lust is not a physical need and therefore can not be satisfied; it is a feeling. Lust can be fulfilled only by denying any Christian love for the person who is the object of lust.
In Christian love, there is sufficient trust to let go and enjoy passion. Where there is no Christian love, acting upon passion can be a source of trouble. Christian love is enabling love; it frees you, and you can safely indulge your feelings.
PHYSICAL ATTRACTION AND LUST:
Physical attraction of young people for those of the opposite sex is both natural and proper. God made his children attractive.
What most young people miss is that God has blessed all of His children. All of His people are attractive, not just the few who have what we call physical beauty.
Where the person appears beautiful, this can be a source of passion; but the feeling of passion does not signify Christian love. Love comes from knowing the person enough to trust them with yourself; not from knowing what the person appears to be.
A young adult from lack of experience with adult relationships, often sees physical beauty and does not look beyond it. This is lust, the absence of Christian love. The real attractiveness of another is discovered only when you really see them for who they are, and see something of what God sees in them.
If you see any child of God who appears unworthy of your love, it is your error, and not theirs. In some people, you just have to look deeper to see what it is that makes them God's choice, for He blesses all of His own.
SEXUALITY AS SEX:
There is no single definition of sex, any more than there is a single definition of love. Sex can be reasonably defined as a physical feeling, a sense of sexuality.
In this sense, sex can be everything from holding gloved hands to the sex act of procreation. It is whatever you feel to be sexual. It is your definition which makes it sex, and not what takes place. Something can be sexual with one person and not sexual with another. It is all how you feel.
The key to understanding the limits of this definition of sex is the idea that it is based upon your feelings, and not upon a spiritual union. It is not Christian love, nor is it directly related to love. There is no requirement for the other person to feel anything at all.
The idea of a shared feeling of sexuality has other aspects. When two people share something which they both enjoy, it brings them a sort of oneness based upon what they share. You can tell that this is not the oneness of Christian love because it is still a personal feeling for each of them, and not a union.
Sexuality is a source of passion, intense feelings and desires focussed upon another person. It can be very effective in convincing people that what they feel is true Christian love. What appears to be shared, however, is not so much something shared as something which each experiences separately.
THE SEX ACT AS SEX:
Sex is often referred to in relation to the act where two bodies are merged as if to create a child. To some extent, this definition also holds for the more intimate touching which leads toward the sex act.
In this definition, there is a shared experience in that both people take part in an act which is both highly pleasurable, and which potentially commits both to a common purpose--the creation of a baby. Even if they deny or prevent the conception of a child, there is still the realization that the pleasurable experience comes from interaction with that someone else.
The sex act is often referred to as making love, but it is not the sharing of lives, only bodies. This is the most extreme example of the sexuality definition for sex which we addressed above. All that is added is the potential for physical commitment attendant upon pregnancy. There is still no union of lives. It still is not Christian love, nor a substitute for it.
SEX AND LOVE:
With Christian Love there is an enabling trust, which frees a person to enjoy their passions fully. "Good sex" does not make a Christian love relationship, nor does its absence destroy one. The absence of love, however, takes much of the meaning and purpose from sexual behavior. Where there is no Christian Love, the enjoyment of sex is severely limited by the risks.
What sex can provide is feeling, commitment, and a shared purpose. This may help a love relationship, even though it can not create one.
The overall effect of sex in interpersonal relations is much like a chemical catalyst. It can make things happen faster and more completely than they would without the catalyst.
What sex can not do is create something meaningful on its own. If a Christian love relationship would not exist without sex, sex will not bring it into existence; though it will expose the failure much faster.
If there is a good basis for the development of a Christian love relationship, sex may bring about the relationship faster. What sex does add is more heat than substance; it provides very limited value for interpersonal relations.
BEING READY FOR LOVE:
Because you feel passion does not mean that you are ready to act on that feeling. You have no choice in feeling passion; when you reach a certain level of physical maturity, the feelings come on their own. When you feel passion, it is because you are ready to feel it, not because you are ready to handle your feelings to your own best interests.
Young adults are growing and changing, both in themselves and in the way they see others. What they feel toward any other person is likely to change month by month until it is something entirely different.
Being ready to take steps based upon your feelings is a matter of maturity; and maturity comes as your growth slows and you reduce your propensity for change.
Enjoy your feelings, but recognize that they are just feelings, something which you have. The intensity of the feelings does not provide stability, only intensity. Intensity of feelings will not control growth. Even Christian love is not stable for young adults, as it is likely to be focussed on someone who is growing and changing. The person you come to know and to love will change considerably in a year or two.
Stability comes only when growth and change slows down. Only then does it become reasonable for a person to take actions which commit their lives. Only then is there a reasonable chance for finding a life-mate and the completeness of Christian love.
It is always possible that a young adult may meet someone who will grow with them; and will always be able to sustain a love relation. This is a nice fairy tale, but it is not a reasonable place to put your faith. Practice teaches us that the great majority of people have many intense romantic involvements before finding a life-mate. Acting on these romantic involvements is probably a reason for multiple marriages and broken homes.
MARRIAGE AND LIVING TOGETHER:
Neither marriage nor living together will create love; neither mode of living is permanent in and of itself. It is the relationship of Christian love which makes a marriage work, and not the other way around. There can be no meaningful relationship for a Christian which is founded on less than enabling love.
The number of divorces indicates the number of marriages which are founded on less than Christian love. It is the lack of really knowing and caring for each other which leads to impermanence.
Living together without the blessing of the church and the rest of society is an affront to others, and indicates to everyone that the relationship is not enduring. If there is a Christian love relationship, then living together outside of marriage is living a lie. If it is not Christian love, then it is not a good basis for sharing lives.
Not every marriage starts out with love, but unless the couple finds Christian love, their relationship must remain uncertain. Many marriages are little more than contracts to raise a family, and when the children are gone, so is the foundation for the marriage.
Christian love goes beyond a lifetime. It continues throughout life, and carries by example into the next generation. The Christian love between a man and a woman is something spiritual which parents leave to their children. It is valuable beyond the riches of the world, an example of how fulfilling life can be.
THE LIVING CHRISTIAN LOVE:
Christian love is not something static. Our God is the God of the living. The Christ of God has enabled us to have a living relationship, and we deny the gift where we accept less.
Loving is knowing and accepting a person for themselves. To accept a person, you must know them or you won't know who you love. The more you know a child of God, the more you will be able to accept them (they have already been found worthy of God's love and He is the ultimate judge). Even passion is served, for with Christian love you are free to feel and to let your feeling guide you.
CHRISTIAN RULES FOR LOVING
"SEEK YE FIRST THE KINGDOM OF GOD, AND THEN ALL THESE THINGS SHALL BE GIVEN UNTO YOU." This is the promise; if you follow the path which Jesus prepared (enabling love), the things of this life will be yours. This includes meeting all of your needs, even that of finding Christian love and being one with another person.
This is a very important rule. In all situations, try to seek for what God would have you do. Through this, you will be seeking the right path to satisfy all of your needs. God will be faithful to the promises of His Christ.
This does not mean that you will never feel lonely, nor that you will never feel pain. What it means is that you will find greater fulfillment on this path than upon any other, both in this life and in the next.
"DO UNTO OTHERS AS YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO UNTO YOU." This is another powerful rule, to be used in conjunction with the first. Much of what Christ taught was love, caring for others and accepting them as God's children. If you seek for the Kingdom of God, you will be searching for the living Christ in those around you.
Caring is the mark of the Christian. Jesus told the disciples that they would be known by the love they had for one another. If you are a Christian in how you live, you will attract other Christians to yourself, other children of God. Where better to find someone to share your life.
"AS YOU DO UNTO THE LEAST OF THESE, YOU DO UNTO ME." Look into the people of God to see Christ, for he is one with them. Look for beauty in God's children, for He has blessed them and beauty is there as surely as is the presence of Jesus. Learn to know and to accept others for what they are and not merely for what they appear to be.
"WHEREVER TWO OR MORE OF YOU ARE GATHERED IN MY NAME, THERE AM I IN THE MIDST OF YOU." A Christian is never completely alone, and never without guidance. A Christian has Jesus with them. He is there, whether or not he is recognized. He cares for you. Act as if He were standing beside you and you will act properly, and will do those things which will lead to the fulfillment of your life. Jesus has no interests that are not your own. That is the purpose for which Christ was sent, that He might be all things to all people, and that you might have life abundantly.
AVOIDING THE PITFALLS OF LOVE:
As a Christian, you know where you are going. You have the lesson of enabling love to define what is worth seeking. You have the companionship of Jesus, the guidance of the greatest expert of all times on the subject of living. You also have the promises of God to see to your welfare when you live within His word.
You avoid troubles of this world by understanding where trouble arises, and protecting yourself. As long as you follow the rules which Christ left for us, you can't be far wrong. All that is left is to prevent others from leading you astray.
The only way others can lead you astray is to lead you to where you no longer see the Lord, or where you feel unworthy. You avoid this by avoiding doing those things which would make you feel unworthy.
The first fortification is to realize that there is nothing which you can do which will defeat the love which your heavenly Father has for you. His grace is too great to be defeated by anything you can do besides rejecting Him. Whatever you do, you will still be His child, fully acceptable to Him and pure through repentance and the sacrifice which Jesus made on your behalf.
The second fortification is to protect yourself from the unkindnesses of this world by refusing to make yourself a victim. If you do not compromise yourself, you will stay within the protection of your faith.
You compromise yourself whenever you do something you know is wrong. If your error is known to someone else, then they can use this to lead you to do other things which you know are wrong. In time, you can forget your way, and forget the love which is your due as a Christian.
Remember the promise, and do not let yourself be lead anywhere but where God would have one of His special children go. If you err, then ask and you will be forgiven and your spirit will be renewed. God loves you, and He is a much better judge of your worth and needs than any person.
HANDLING YOUR FEELINGS:
Your feelings are not to be turned off, nor should you deny them. They are a part of you. You have to learn to live with them, and it is wise to learn to enjoy them.
When you see someone who is attractive, thank God for blessing them as He has. Learn to appreciate the efforts others take to make themselves more attractive; they are doing it for you, so that you will appreciate them more. Be glad that they care for you and your opinion of them.
Your feelings are a part of who you are, they are unique in that they are not separable from you. Though feelings may spring from others, what you feel is not really a part of any other person; your feelings are yours alone.
Your feelings for others are every bit as much a part of who you are as your feet. They are important, but they should not tell the rest of you where to go. Even as you enjoy your sense of taste or your eyesight, enjoy your feelings.