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by Helene Torres
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“The greatest thing, you'll ever learn, is to love someone and be loved in return.”
This immortal line is from the film “Moulin Rouge” which begins and ends with that phrase. Love is very important in the world today. Most of the songs written, are about that subject, from undying love to heartbreak. There is a song or film for every occasion.

Now I claim to love chocolate. To love chocolate is fairly safe – okay it might make me fat, but inanimate objects can't answer back, can't reject you, but they can't love you. Not even Jemma's homemade chocolate brownies are special enough for me to hold a relationship with them. Unfortunately for me, God did not instruct us to love chocolate. In fact He warns against placing too much importance on money and other worldly things, “Do not store your treasure up on earth, where thieves break in to steal it.”

Paul says, that God places love above all things.

“I may speak in many different languages of men and even angels, but if I have not loved, I am a noisy bell or crashing symbol… I may have faith so great it can move mountains, but if I have not loved it is nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13 v 3

Love is a choice. People will try blackmail, guilt-tripping, even buying love, but no-one can force you to love them. Jesus gives us a 2 fold command – to love His Father and other people. Loving the God, who created me, suffered a hideous death for me and is perfect, I find fairly easy, at least when compared with loving people. I know God uses people to test my faithfulness to Him. He lines my path with infuriating, imperfect people, who have the uncanny ability, to get right up my nose. People who leave their house keys in the outside of the front door. People who leave Wheeto’s wrappers down the sofa. People who almost give themselves asthma attacks by breathing in while eating icing sugar straight from the packet. People like me, with as many, though different faults as I have and then God asks us to love them. He asks us, as Christians, to love sort of people who I cross the street to avoid and who always have to phone me. Matthew 5 states; “If you only love the people who loved you, you will get no reward. Even the tax collectors and pagans do that.” He commands us to love them – not to change them!!

LIFESONG by Casting Crowns is probably among the most listened to Albums within my twenties and thirties group. One of the songs is called “Love them like Jesus.” It goes through a couple of scenarios where the artist feels out of his depth. He is with people who have just lost someone very dear to them and he just doesn’t know how to help. What to do. What to say. He eventually comes to the conclusion that, in order to help, he doesn’t require answers to the various questions that come out of circumstances like that. He should just love them as Jesus would do, but how do we show that kind of love?

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” Elizabeth Barrett Browning asked and endeavoured to answer this question in one of her sonnets. There are various ways people communicate love. God designed us, so that every person is genetically unique and has differing pasts. Therefore it shouldn’t surprise us that people convey their love in so many different ways. Here are a few:

There’s the PHYSICAL TOUCH. Now, I’m not a touchy, feely sort of person. I hate facials, people messing with my hair and the thought of having a foot massage sends shivers up my spine. However some people need that physical contact to feel loved and show love in the same way. Last year I was struggling and John asked one of my good friends to take communion around. As she was taking it, she simply put her hand on my shoulder – no words, nothing else. It was a private communication that she was there and cared. In that simple gesture, I felt so much warmth, love and understanding, not only from her, but also from God.

Jesus wasn’t afraid to touch people. He wanted the kids to come to Him when His friends tried to turn them away. He washed the disciples feet Himself – a job reserved for servants. He wasn’t afraid of physical contact with people who society deemed it inappropriate to be seen with. - He laid hands on lepers and wasn’t embarrassed that the woman with a bleeding problem had touched him. In John 9, we hear an account from a previously blind man, “The man named Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes…and now I can see”.

Another way, people show love is through their words. What people are really like, often comes out in their words. In James 3, it compares the tongue to a small rudder, which controls a large ship. Matthew 12 v 33 says “A tree is known by the kind of fruit it produces.” Like it or not, words hold power – they have the power to totally destroy someone’s self esteem or make someone feel 10 feet tall. Sometimes a simple compliment can change someone’s life. I wouldn’t have considered changing my degree from Philosophy, if my Watercolour Tutor hadn’t told me, he thought I had a lot of potential. I knew I liked art, but my family weren’t particularly artistic and I hadn’t stood out in school, so I had been unaware of my creative prospects. I wouldn’t have come to Carmarthen to study Art, without those words of encouragement.

Personally, I find words so precious that I keep a notebook of the encouraging things people have said to me. In truth I shouldn’t need a tiny notebook to confirm to me that I am special and build my confidence. The God of the Universe gave me His book of encouragement and that’s all I should require. Psalm 139 tells me I am special. He formed me in my mother’s womb and said I am wonderfully made. He knows everything about me and yet still loves me more than I could possibly imagine.

My mum shows her love by giving her QUALITY TIME. My Gran and her mother, never quite got the technique of listening, but enjoyed talking immensely. Basically, your role within my Gran’s monologue was to go “Yes,” Yes” “Yes” “ Oh is it?” and you could quite easily put the phone down, go to the toilet and run back with her completely unaware that you’d gone. Mum spent about an hour, four times a week, on the phone being talked at. I did ring Gran, because she was lonely, but I’d off forgotten the insignificant details, within five minutes of finishing the conversation. The truth is, I couldn’t be bothered to remember. My mind was on other things of greater importance (– what was for tea tonight.) My mum on the other hand, would of been able to reel off my Grans bingo scores 2 days later and remember to ask the appropriate questions. Time is a precious commodity. By giving up our time, we are giving something we will never get back.

Jesus gave His time willing to the people, His friends and to God. Jesus didn’t have “me time!” He didn’t need “His own space!” Anytime spent alone was held with God, in quiet prayer. Jesus spent quality time with the disciples – they did things together just as my own, group of friends do. They shared meals, extended conversations and went places together. (I’m sure if they had a Jerusalem version of Monopoly, they’d off played that.) It takes a while for me to trust people and allow them to share the more intimate details of my thoughts, my feelings and my life. The disciples got to know the REAL Jesus and were privileged to be given incite into His teachings. Matthew 13 v 11, states Jesus says to his disciples; “You have been chosen to know the secrets about the kingdom of Heaven…” Anyone who spends quality time with God in prayer or reading the Bible will know He is always ready and waiting to meet them.

I have an uncle who communicates his affection for his family and friends through gifts and generosity. As a child, he’d turn up on Bonfire Night armed with a huge tin of Roses, a large box of fireworks/sparklers and if he took us shopping… my goodness, you only had to glance at that Wildlife Colouring Book and it would be yours! Gifts show love, whether it’s that postcard that simply states “I saw this and I thought of you!” or the car your parents bought you.

I admit I regard, the spare money in my bank account as my personal property, to be spent in Monsoon or saved. In actual fact, there is nothing on this earth that is truly mine, as God gave me everything I own. I should be using the things He’s given me, to make others lives better and cause to feel loved. A friend, who is far from well off is a real example to me. He will halt my protests to him “treating me” to a meal out with the words, “Hey…I’ve got a good Father.” We’ve all got that “generous Father” and just like the woman who shared her last meal with Elijah, if we give out to others, we will be rewarded, Matthew 6 v 2 says “Your Father, will see what is done…and He will reward you.” We can never out-give God! His generosity is limitless. He gives us everything we need. He’s provided a world full of beauty and He even gave us His son.

The other way to show love is through SERVICE. Some people believe “actions speak louder than words” and if you’re words aren’t from the heart, it’s true. In the Parable of the Two Sons, the first son says “no” to his fathers requests to go and work in the field, but later goes and does it. His brother responds, “Yes” but this is just an empty word, because the job doesn’t get done by him. The people who have servant hearts often don’t wait to be asked – if they see a job that needs doing, they want to help. Mother Teresa is the obvious example of a person who lived to serve. She devoted her life to working with the poor in Calcutta. She opened homes for orphans, gave out food and medicine and cared for the people in the slums.

To her and many others serving people is serving God. If you truly love someone, you won’t be able to avoid making sacrifises, whether that’s devoting your life to caring for your wheelchair-bound wife or just doing the washing up. Jesus was a servant. He had no impressions of grandeur inspite of all the admiration His miraculous works and teaching gained. He gave His Father all the glory. He had humble beginning, born in a stable to an ordinary girl. Even on His triumphant entry into Jerusalem, Jesus chose to ride a donkey – the lowest of the low. The greatest form of service the world has ever known was the King or Kings demeaning Himself by dying for His creation.

Jesus showed love in all these ways and we should be willing to imitate this aspect of Him, by moving outside our own comfort zone for the other person. It is pointless trying to explain to a young child who wants a cuddle, that although you won’t hug her, you actually do love her. You just show your love in other ways. If you don’t respond to those open arms then that child will go away feeling unloved. Adults aren’t as open in asking for love. We have a way of expecting everyone to behave as we would, showing love in the same way. We are left feeling rejected and unloved when love is not offered in the way we are anticipating.

I have needed to learn and relearn the lesson, that what I give out of love – whether that be service, gifts or quality time, I shouldn’t expect back. Neither should I give to receive, that warm glowing feeling I get from being “Thanked, from the bottom of someone’s heart.” In truth, I have already received my reward in those circumstances. Sometimes people will never connect how much you’ve done for them. My sister noticed a ticket on mum’s car. It was mums mistake, but she paid it without telling her. Jenny will never get “thanked” for that sacrifice or get that £30 back.

There’s also the other side of the coin, where I have to accept support or love from people. I can’t drive and so have to accept lifts from everyone. I know I will never be able to save those people a car journey, but there are other favours I do for them. There are some people in my life, who I feel guilty about, because I know I will never be able to repay them, for all the help they’ve given me and continue to give. I have had to accept that maybe God doesn’t want me to give back to that particular person and trust that He will pay them in full and His gifts are much better than I could ever give. Any little thing, I do for these people I am so happy to do because I owe them so much.

By nature, the majority of people want to repay debts. Many people strive to be good enough to be close to God, but we can never do enough, because sin is a genetic disorder. It was past down through the generations from Adam and we cannot earn forgiveness. Jesus paid the price for my sin and my only part is to lift my hands and accept His gift of love – life and a relationship with God. We should love others because God loves us. We should love God. Because He first loved us.

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