I don't know what you are observing in your area, but as quickly as the Christmas decorations went on half-price sale the day after Christmas, the Valentine stuff was littering the shelves in my local stores! If that wasn't bad enough, we actually were in a store where Easter stuff was in the very next aisle! Now, this isn't "plan ahead" crafting stuff, but the candy to fill baskets with, those cheesy cards you give to classmates, and the like. We used to make jokes about "Halo-Thanks-Mas" - that season when Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas stuff would all just "blend" on the shelves. Now we have some competition with "Vale-Trick-Ster" for that season when Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, and Easter items just stack the shelves! Can anybody else but me see this as just a little too much? I think in the scheme of things, we have lost touch with the opportunity to share these "special days" with special people in a special way! If we were to be honest, we'd all probably like to feel "loved" on Valentine's Day, enjoy a good corned beef and cabbage meal with friends on St. Patty's Day, and settle down to some special family time on Easter. In fact, we'd like to feel "loved" almost any day of the year, even without all this hype and "salesmanship" from the local markets!
So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11 MSG)
As this next "wave" of holidays (if you want to call them that) begins to crash over us, I pray we don't lose sight of the one focus God wants for each of us - that we'd learn to love well - testing our head and heart frequently to be sure we aren't just "gushing" over silly stuff. I think this is where our culture gets "love" a little wrong - in focusing on the "sentimental gush" instead of the sincerity of heart behind what we label as LOVE. We need to focus not so much on the "feelings" of love, but on the actions.
As we consider this idea of letting love flourish in our lives, we often gravitate to the "feelings" associated with being loved, not so much on the actions of showing love to another. Did you catch that? We "show" love in our actions - not in our words. Flourishing love is action-based. The very idea of something flourishing is that of growing vigorously - to grow, love must have its soil tended well and with tender-loving skill.
We are reminded to love appropriately - something we evidently don't do naturally as our passage suggests we have to "learn" to do this. I think the idea here is that we need help getting this "love" thing straight in our hearts and minds - because we focus on the emotions of love so readily and not so much on the actions of love. Many years ago - perhaps 30 or so - some close friends saw me in a time of financial struggle. My husband had just left us and the monies were tight. I was a full-time nursing student, raising two young children, and I could only work part-time. I was too proud to ask for help from anyone - especially my friends. I think God knew this and he prepared a moment in time where my pride had to come down in order to allow the "actions" of love to be manifest the way he intended.
It was one of my days off from school and we were all hanging around with friends - the kids playing in the next room while my girlfriend and I just talked and caught up on things. In just a short period of time, a card was being pushed across the table to me. As I opened that card, in a moment of uncertain panic as to what this "gesture" of kindness would do to my tough outer appearance of having life "all together, I could see it was not only a card expressing some words to touch my heart, but also two hundred dollars to assist the kids and I through that time of struggle. You know what happened next, don't you? Yep, I immediately gushed about how I couldn't accept this from my friends who were also struggling to make ends meet! In fact, I attempted to give it back!
If you have ever tried to "give back" what you might have had a little difficulty accepting because of your pride, you know exactly where I was coming from in that moment. I wonder how many blessings we deny others when we do not accept the actions of love they manifest on our behalf? It may not be two hundred dollars of hard-earned cash, but regardless of what the display of love is, it is just as significant to the one giving it unselfishly. It took me about five minutes to break past my pride and to accept this gift as a sign of not only their love for me, but their love for Christ and their obedience to his request to do this for me. Some thirty years later, I cannot forget the significance of this gift. It wasn't the money - it was the manifestation of their obedience to Christ which touched me so deeply and helped me deal with the pridefulness which kept me rock-solid on the outside while I as a mess on the inside.
Loving well means we get beyond the sentimental gush and into the hard stuff of obedient service, sacrificial giving, and genuine availability to be his hands and feet in the community in which we live. It means we focus not so much on what we can get out of love, but what we can bring into the lives of others who need to experience the mighty love of Christ we have had lavished upon us without measure. Loving actions when it seems our love isn't returned in quite the same manner are hard - they go beyond sentimental gush, don't they? They require sacrifice - giving out of what we have to touch the life of another, even when they may not reveal actions which show the gift was appreciated. You never know when your action of sacrifice may be the one action that begins to breakdown the tough outer shell of pride, anger, fear, or other struggle another is experiencing. Learn to love well. Let your love flourish - growing beyond what you could imagine. Embark upon the journey of living a lover's life. You won't know what blessings await you until you do! Just sayin!