Hope To See Us Through: Lead With Love
By Terry Elsberry
There’s a lot of anger in the system these days. In the system of our nation, in a lot of us as individual Americans. A lot of us are feeling some degree of anger.
And, you might say, there’s a lot to be angry about. The frustration and physical, emotional, and economic tragedy caused by the virus. The explosive issues of racism and some police activity. The political anger engendered on both sides of the political aisle.
I could go on. Add to the list. Maybe you’ve been feeling some frustration and anger, too, with what’s happening and with where we are as a country. I know that to some degree I have.
But when we come to our faith, and to the Leader of our faith, we find an alternative to all this frustration and anger. We find a better way. I’m not saying all anger is wrong or bad; it’s not. There is certainly a place for righteous indignation, for anger that is the result of wanton cruelty and misbehavior. Still, anger that has no resolution or alternative, that persists to such an extent that it robs us of our righteousness, peace and joy can be detrimental. Detrimental to our emotional and physical health, detrimental to our relationships.
So what do we do when our anger is out of control? Where do we turn?
We turn to the greatest alternative to anger there is. Which is love. We turn to the greatest Lover of humankind in history. We turn to Jesus, who always leads with love. Who wants you and me in our lives to lead with love.
But that’s a tall order. We’re not Jesus. How can we always lead with love?
Maybe to better understand what Jesus is talking about, we need to consider what love is NOT. For one thing, we can start by looking at those things—feelings, emotions and actions—that don’t look like love.
We actually know what some of those things are, don’t we? It doesn’t look like road rage (although sometimes I can slide in that direction). It doesn’t look like trashing people behind their back. It doesn’t look like making an unkind remark—even if it IS amusing. It doesn’t look like making our self look good at someone else’s expense. Obviously, I could go on.
If you start trying to love like Jesus, one way to begin is at the outside and working your way in. Beginning at the outside means you start with things like basic politeness, civility, kindness, ways of showing respect. Respect to all people, of all ages, of all colors, creeds and nationalities.
But that’s the surface stuff. Christians should take that kind of behavior for granted. How do we go deeper, into even more Jesus-like behavior?
The deeper you go, the more you study the Gospels, the more you realize that when Jesus talks about how He loves us, He’s talking about love that costs something. The inner sanctum of His love comes at a cost. A cost to us. It costs us something to love the way He does.
It’s easy s to love when it’s convenient. But what about when it’s not? Jesus wants us to love each other even when it puts us out.
He says that’s the kind of love that shows we’re His people. Loving like that sets us apart. It shows others there IS a God. Because without Him, we would never be able to love like He wants us to.
Because He wants us to love without condition; to love when there’s no advantage; to love when you have nothing to gain from loving that person.
I like one contemporary take on First Corinthians 13 in which the Apostle Paul describes what Jesus Love looks like. It goes like this:
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut.
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others fail.
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
Keeps going to the end.
There are more elegant versions of the great Love Chapter. But whichever translation you read, it always comes down to the same thing.
Which is that the most important thing you and I can do is probably also the most difficult. Which is what He’s asking us to do. Which is to love like He loves. Which is to try always, every chance we find, to lead with love.
Loving like that is worth a lifetime of practice. It’s an antidote to the worst emotion there is: hate. It can be a healing force–for our bodies, for our emotions, for our relationships, for our souls.
It can help, if maybe not totally alleviate, anger. It can make us whole.
Terry served as Associate Rector at Christ Church from 1986-1994, and has now returned as Priest Associate. He recently retired as the Rector of St. Matthew’s Church in Bedford, NY, where he served for the last 23 years.