As I was driving home from winter break, that fabulous one-hit wonder song, “What is love? (Baby don’t hurt me)” started playing on the radio. As I jived to the funky techno beat, singing the main chorus as loudly as possible, mumbling through the parts that I didn’t know, repeating those lyrics, “What is love? Baby don’t hurt me, baby don’t hurt me, no more,”, I got to thinking, wait a second, what is love?

What does God have to say about this “love” thing that we all feel? How are we called by God to love each other? Why is this song so awesome? And then I fell into an existential crisis thanks to Haddaway’s catchy tune. Just kidding. However, I did start to think about what “Love” is and it’s powerful effects on humanity on my seven hour drive back to Austin.

What does Love mean to you?

What do you think of when you hear the word “love”? Most likely you think of a Ryan Gosling-type holding hands with a supermodel as they ride horses on the beach towards a beautiful sunset. And according to our society’s standards, love is that perfect feeling of butterflies and happiness you feel the first time you see that person that you’re going to spend the rest of your life with. Well, these are all results of love, but don’t truly capture the complexity of what love is.

So here’s our little lesson about love. Contrary to popular belief, love is not a feeling; it’s an act. The act of loving can stir up emotions within us, but love itself requires human will and act. Also, the words “love” and “charity” are often used interchangeably. “What is charity?” you might ask. Charity is the love of God that was given to us during Pentecost when God sent us the holy Spirit, and is the greatest of the virtues, as Paul says, “So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Love vs. Charity

Though they’re used interchangeably, love and charity are a little bit different. You can “love your pillow pet”, and you can “love the new One Direction album” (it’s amazing, by the way); but through charity you act for love of God. To show charity towards someone means that we are willing to make sacrifices for him or her. Because “Christ is all, and in all,” (Colossians 3:11), through loving others, we are directly loving Christ.

Conversely, our society sees love to be something that is freely given to us with no repercussions; it only pays attention to the end result of love and ignores all the work that happens before the happiness. People are tricked into thinking that love is “easy” and “natural”, when in reality the opposite is true. We are trained to think to ourselves, “What am I going to get out of this relationship?” rather than thinking, “How can I serve this person?”. True love means being willing to sacrifice everything for a friend.

I know, intense right? But if we truly want to become Christ-like, if we truly want to become a light in this world of darkness, we must act as Christ acted. Like He said, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13) For love of us, Christ became hated by the whole world, was publicly humiliated, and was beaten to death because He wants us to be with Him eternally in Heaven. This is the example of true Love that He’s shown us.  It seems a little counterintuitive, but it’s through giving up everything that we are able to know God’s heart, because it’s only through God’s love that we can find the true joy.

How to Love 101

So you might be wondering to yourself, “Ok, that’s cool and all, but now what?”. I’m not saying that in order to learn how to love, we all need do go give everything that we own to the poor and live on the streets for the rest of our lives (I don’t think Austin is in dire need of any more homeless people). What we are called to do is to truly love our neighbor as God intended us to. We can do this through giving your friend a ride somewhere, helping out at a soup kitchen or giving money to your church.

Let’s look at how Jesus told us to live. Firstly, He tells us “…The first is this: ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12: 29-30) This means that we should always put our Lord first in whatever we do, doing everything for His glory. This also means that we should always be seeking ways to grow our relationship with God, whether it be through going to church or joining a ministry on campus. Through loving God we will be able to love others.

Then Jesus tells us, “The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” How do we do this? Well I think it’s important to note that in order to love our neighbor, we must first love ourselves. I’m not saying to become boastful, but I think it’s important to think well of yourself. God is in each of us, so there’s no reason to have a low self-esteem. Also, our bodies are temples, so treat them that way. Get enough sleep, eat healthy, and work out (ya, I don’t do a lot of these things, just fyi). This way we’ll have the strength and energy to love one another fully.

After we learn to love ourselves, we can begin to learn how to love others. Approach every relationship knowing you might not get anything out of it. When you think of your “ideal spouse”, instead of asking God to give you someone who is tall, smart, rich and handsome, ask God, “How can I better myself so I can be pleasing to my spouse?”.

So, quick recap:

What is love? Charity is loving for the sake of God, and it’s through this love that we are able to experience true joy. What does God have to say about this “love” thing we all feel? The “good feeling” part of love is awesome, but there’s much more to God’s love than just “feelings”. It’s a conscious decision to choose to love that person. How are we called by God to love each other? Love your neighbor as you love yourself. This is God’s greatest commandment. Why is this song so awesome? Because I love music from the early 90’s.

So go out and perform acts of kindness towards one another. Be charitable. I know it seems hard at first, but if we practice charity habitually, it will become natural. If you can bring one person closer to God by showing His love, then you’ve done what God has asked of you.

“This I command you: love one another.” (John 15: 17)

CRM sig picLaurelin Ontai is a media intern for Campus Renewal Ministries. She is currently a junior at the University of Texas at Austin and active in her ministry at the University Catholic Center. If you have any questions or comments, please contact her at laurelinontai@gmail.com