Source: The Online Journal of Father John Moses
When I was young, there was nothing more important to me than my friends. I spent a lot of my energy making sure that I was in the group, accepted and loved. My friends didn’t come from the “country club” side of town. They weren’t the rich, the popular, or the honor roll kids. My parents objected to some of my friends, and I resented it.
I would like to say that love held us together, but it wasn’t love. The Beatles came on the scene and suddenly we had heroes that we could emulate. We began to grow our hair in a long Beatle style, and dress like the Beatles. Of course, we discovered marijuana and it seemed as if the whole world was turning on its head. Curiously, some of the country club kids began to come around to join our party. We often took trips to the principal’s office to be threatened with expulsion if we didn’t cut my hair and dress differently. It gave us a sense of solidarity.
No, it wasn’t love that held us together. After all these years, almost all of those so-called friends are not in my life and I am not in there’s. We never really cared enough to stay in touch. I generally don’t go to class reunions. The same applies for most of the college friends that I had. In truth, it seems that our relationships were shallow and plastic. Maybe I’m a romantic because I always thought that if love was real, it would last. St. Paul must be a romantic as well because he wrote “Love never fails.”
I heard this analogy many years ago: real love is a warm fuzzy. When my wife hugs me and tells me that she loves me, I know its real love and it makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside (BTW, she’s been doing this for about 34 years now). When I think of Jesus, I get the same feeling because despite my constant failing and falling away, He remains faithful to his love for me (BTW, he’s been putting up with me longer than my wife has).
The Old Testament has a word for love that never fails: Hesed. Hesed love is God’s covenantal love. When God makes a commitment to us, his commitment is eternal because his love is eternal. No matter how many times Israel fell away, God remained faithful to his part of the covenant. I had a real warm fuzzy when I was baptized because I felt the genuine love of God for me. God made an eternal covenant with me that day. Sadly like Israel, I have been faithless to my baptismal vows, yet God has remained true. Every time I go to confession, God renews my baptism and sets me up on my feet again. Now that is real love.
Sadly, there is fake love. Instead of making you feel a warm fuzzy in your heart, it feels like a fake plastic fuzzy. It looks like love, and for a moment feels like love, but it’s a fake. I’m sure you’ve had these kinds of conversations. You tell someone, “Let’s get together for dinner.” They reply, “Oh, sure. Ah, let me check my schedule and as soon as I have a free day, I’ll call.” Ugh! Plastic fuzzy.
In Romans 12.9, St. Paul writes, “Let love be genuine.” Another translation says, “Let love be without hypocrisy.” I would like to be able to say that since I’ve been Orthodox my love has been genuine. I would also like to be able to say that those who were Orthodox have loved me without hypocrisy. I’d like to be able to say so, but I cannot. So often my love has been shallow and plastic and hypocritical. On the other hand, I have had those who said they loved me, and then stabbed me in the back on their way out.
Besides warm fuzzies, and plastic fuzzies, there are also cold pricklies. A cold prickly makes you feel really bad. I had a few of those in my life. I remember times when a teacher would give me that cold scowling look, I would feel really bad. There are times when I really hurt my wife, and she would look at me with that pain in her eyes, and I really felt that cold prickly. Of course, I had just given her one, and she was returning it to me. I try to not give cold pricklies to the members of my Church, but sadly I often give plastic fuzzies.
I am convinced that it is because our love is not genuine the church does not grow. Without genuine love, there is no real community. We are called to feed each other, and to build each other up, but no one can grow and thrive on plastic fuzzy. There are simple ways that we can gauge if love is genuine. When is the last time you invited a member of the Church to your house? When was the last time anyone invited you? What do you know about those who stand next to you? Have you ever bothered to learn their story; do you know their joys and sorrows? Do you pray for them, or do they pray for you? Whose burdens have you every carried lately?
I wonder if I will ever have genuine love. God invites me to spend time with him, but I say “Lord, let me check my schedule, and when I have a free moment, I’ll call you.” Plastic! He invites me to his feast, but I cannot come because I have bills and commitments, so surely He will understand my absence. Plastic!
But I hope for genuine love because I am constantly pursued by the love of God. The “hounds of heaven” chase me and they will not leave me alone. They even have names: goodness and mercy” and they have followed me all the days of my life. Down every dark trail that I have chosen, they bark and nip at my heels until I turn from my evil. They show me God’s hesed love, never failing, never ending, and willing to go to the Cross for my sake.
St. Paul wrote that someday, at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow. I pray that someday, the love of God in Christ Jesus, a love so faithful and true, will melt all the plastic in my heart and give me genuine love.
“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and put a right spirit within me.” Warm fuzzies! Make it so, Lord.