This past Sunday we lit the fourth Advent candle, the candle of love. As we did so I got thinking about what we know of love. Church goers will be familiar with the scriptural quote from John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” That is a love that would be hard to emulate wouldn’t it? And then there are the words from 1 Corinthians 13,
1If I speak in the tonguesa of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames,b but have not love, I gain nothing.
4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
On reading these sections of the Bible I think we risk getting a very romanticized idea of perfect, comfortable love which will always meet our needs and never be challenging. So what about all those conflicts in our families? I believe we miss out on a rather significant point from God’s love letter to his people, as the Bible is often called, we have often been in conflict with God.
In my classes lately we have been looking at Dr. John Gray’s love letter technique for dealing with conflict within relationships. One of the things that is so powerful about this technique is that it focuses not on everything that is wrong with the other person, but on our own feelings. The idea is that by going systematically through all the feelings and writing them out we will find ourselves back at love. There is a section for each of; Anger, Sadness, Fear, Regret, and Love. My students often start out rejecting the idea out of hand because it starts out with such negative feelings. After all, we aren’t supposed to get angry, jealous, etc.
Let’s look at those again. We have read about the wrath of God, and out of anger Jesus destroyed the fig tree. Every time humans have turned their backs on God and strayed it must have saddened God, as it would any parent when rejected by their children. Jesus is moved to sadness over the troubles of others, and he cries in sadness and some degree of fear over the challenge in facing the cross. It seems clear that God has felt regret if only by looking at the number of times we were cast out, sent into exile or in other ways punished, only to be taken up again in God’s arms.
If things in your relationships are not all rosy and exciting as we head into Christmas, do not feel that the Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love are not for you! It is because of God’s love (anger, sadness, fear, regret and all) that we were sent the awesome gift of Jesus. It is out of God’s love that we are offered grace. It may take us years to unwrap it, but the gift remains there for those who believe.
To find out more about the Love Letter Technique read Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus by Dr. John Gray