“Love is work.” So begins Scott Peck’s book, “The Road Less Travelled.” Scott Peck was a psychiatrist who believed that half of the people who sought therapy wouldn’t need it, if they just understood some basic things of life, such as “What is love.”
We begin life by experiencing love as something that others do for us, especially our mothers. They gave us life, they feed us, care for us, nurture us, pick us up when we fall down, and protect us. Later we begin to experience love as an emotion, when we “fall in love.” But as Peck says, we need to understand that love isn’t just what others do for us or an emotion we feel. As adults we need to learn to do for ourselves. The feelings of first love disappear, and “the thrill is gone,” or at least it is not the same. As we mature as human beings, we need to learn love is what we do, especially for others.
This is true, not only in our human development, but also in our spiritual growth. We may have moments of great emotion in our relationship with God. I once heard an old monk describe how he felt overwhelmed with joy when he realized deeply and fully that God loved him with all his flaws and failings. We might feel such things, especially in receiving forgiveness from sin or God’s protection from harm. These are good things. They help us grow. They can sustain us. We gather for Eucharist precisely so that together we may experience the joy of the Lord’s death and resurrection.
But our faith and relationship with God is more than feeling.
When Yahweh appeared at the burning bush, he did say that he knew the pain and suffering of the Hebrew slaves. But he didn’t just say, “I feel their pain.” He also said, “I mean to rescue them with mighty hand and outstretched arm by sending you to Pharaoh and to lead them to freedom.” On the last day, Jesus won’t ask us how we are feeling. He will judge us on what we did or didn’t do for the least of his brothers and sisters.
“Love is work.” We grow in love and in our relationship, not so much by how we feel, but rather by what we do.
You will discover, if you try it, that we can change our feelings about others by what we do. We often choose to help those for whom we already have good feelings. We help our friends. We give to the charities we like.
But there is another approach: “Love your enemies. Do good for them.” If you do good for those for whom you do not already have good feelings—of even have bad feelings–if you pray, if you do good things, if you are genuinely kind to them—even though it may be hard—especially at first–you will discover that after a while your feelings will change. If you do good for them, you will eventually grow to love them.
Today Jesus tells us that we are to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world. We are not to just blend in with the rest of the world, but to be exceptional, to be different. We become the salt of the earth, not by what we believe or how we feel, but by what we do. This morning the Church suggests we think of Isaiah’s examples: Share your bread with the hungry,
shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them,
and do not turn your back on your own….remove from your midst
oppression, false accusation and malicious speech;
if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; …Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
your vindication shall go before you.