I was looking for the right image, artwork, or photograph for this blog, so I googled “love” and I looked at the resulting images trying to find what I wanted. There were hearts. Flowers. Couples kissing. Children holding hands. Picnics. Puppies. Sunrises and sunsets. Diamond rings.
All of them beautiful images, to be sure.
But they don’t tell the full story of love.
Because oftentimes love hurts. Love costs. Love can bring pain. Love requires extra work and extra hours. Love leads to sacrifice.
So I looked for other images. An overworked mom trying to cook dinner and still keep her patience while a two-year-old whines in the background. A man answering a phone call in the middle-of-the-night from a drunk friend. A wife spending time with her husband in a care home even though, due to his dementia, he has forgotten who she is. An underpaid teacher maintaining a smile in the face of obstinate children and even more obstinate parents.
When I thought about love that way, I realized that I could just walk around our church campus and take pictures of our members. I could photograph the nursery worker who changes a stinky diaper with a smile on her face because she loves the baby, the parents, and her church. I could take a picture of a translator in our Mission of Mercy clinic who takes the English words of the doctor and shares them in Spanish so a patient can understand. I could take a picture of a basketball coach who spends an hour-and-a-half with his teenage basketball team (many of who think they know more than the coach) after a tension-filled day at work. I could take a picture of a man sweating in the sun after spending hours trimming trees, pulling weeds, and picking up trash because he loves his church, his fellow members, and because he wants his church to be an accurate reflection of the God He loves. I could take a picture of the man who gets up abnormally early to pray with His friends because he loves God and he loves his church. I could take a picture of the volunteer who works the midnight to 4:00 am shift in our homeless ministry. He’s bored, because everyone else is asleep, but he’s willing to be bored because He loves homeless people and he loves his church.
These may be more accurate pictures of love than hearts and flowers.
So when we say we Love God and we Love People, don’t think just of a cute picture. Think about sweat. Tears. Achy muscles. Long hours. Frustration. Hospital waiting rooms. Hours of boredom. Teenagers with attitudes.
And if you’re looking for the right image, think of nails. Thorns. Angry guards with heavy whips. Rough wood shaped into an ugly cross. Dried blood on a battered face.
That’s the best image of love the world has produced.
And though most of us won’t be called upon to die on a Cross, we will be asked to love.
And love costs.