Working among today’s troubled youth has made one thing abundantly clear to me: love is a choice.
It doesn’t seem that way when you are gazing at the angelic face of your sleeping infant or wrapped up in the arms of your significant other. Those moments, you feel like you are drifting down the gently flowing current of emotional bliss. But what happens when the bottom falls out? What happens if your current of emotions leads to a tumultuous waterfall? I know for myself, in moments of pain, fear or uncertainty, love becomes elusive.
I have experienced much to strengthen my resolve to love. It seems like lately, every student I have had the pleasure of working with is asking the same thing: Can you still love me if….? If I choke you? If I punch you? If I slam my head into your face? If I hate you? If I reject you or push you away? If I am indifferent toward you? If, in the end, all I really care about is me? I have to admit, though I have learned much, I have not easily answered yes to any of these questions.
I don’t want you to think I have all this figured out. I don’t. I just want to convey to you the truth about love. One student, in one day, made this question very real to me. I had to search within my heart for the strength and the will to love her. I went home that day feeling like I had experienced a train wreck, sore from top to bottom and in desperate need of a massage. She fired this question at me in all of these ways and more until I clenched my teeth, left her with a coworker and ran to the women’s bathroom so I could experience the anger and frustration in private. In truth, I was furious with her behavior toward me. I was physically in pain. I was frustrated because she could not communicate to me the reason she was so violent toward me all the sudden. And in all honesty, I wanted to quit my job that day.
After work, I went home, cleaned and cooked and finally, soaked in a hot bath. I climbed under the comforter and traded back rubs with my daughter until my body felt somewhat decent, considering the day I’d had. When everyone else was asleep, I cried out to the Lord, “What exactly are you trying to teach me here?!” And all I heard in response was, “Will you love her?” Not “Can you?” Not “Should you?” Just “Will you?”
The hardest part of answering that question was that I wasn’t being forced to love. I wasn’t being convicted for not loving. I was simply being asked to love. I had to take into consideration my physical suffering, my conflicting emotions, and the possibility that my love would not be reciprocated. I had to make peace with the fact that I was putting my heart in a very vulnerable place for no other reason but that I had made the choice to do so.
Since that day, the moment I chose to love, I have come to know that love is not a one-time choice. It is a daily choice. More than that, it is a moment by moment choice. When Jesus hung on that cross, he chose to love people who had not only rejected him, they had torn him to pieces in jealous rage. They had scorned him, scoffed at him, spit on him, tore out his hair, laughed in his face, and threatened him. They took his life. And knowing they would, and experiencing it his entire 33 years on earth, he chose daily to love. Thank God, he still chooses to love us. Moment by moment.