I’m struggling to begin to put into words what I am thinking. I’ve been thinking a lot about false forms of love—falsely advertised, falsely felt, falsely given. When so many of us put love at the center of our lives—why aren’t we asking more questions about what society has been making it?
For fall break, I went to visit one of my closest friends in New Mexico. I hadn’t spent more than a few hours with her since about December of last year, and although we had kept in as good of touch as we could, it was so nice to just be in the same physical space again. We spent endless hours catching up, driving across the vastness of New Mexico just to go to a restaurant that wasn’t Grandma’s—and then drinking tea, stargazing, and making mac’n’cheese late at night. The trip was everything I needed that I didn’t know that I did. Because the thing is, this friend of mine loves in a way that so many people could only aspire to do. She has a passion for humanity and social justice issues in the world that is so awe-inspiring. She once said to me, “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Regardless of if this was her original words or someone else’s, she said this to me and it has impacted the way that I have tried to live my life. She has inspired me to want to be radical, to want to be more grounded in my faith for all else that I do. She has made a huge difference in my life.
And maybe she’s just one person—but she has made a gigantic impact on my life. As another friend once said to me: “If you impact just ONE person, you make a difference. Because that person can go on to impact another person. And another. And so on and so on. Just like a ripple. We are really just a drop in the ocean, but that doesn’t mean that a tidal wave isn’t created.”
While I was out in New Mexico, my friend and I got to talking about UD programming. There are so many amazing opportunities at this school for going out into the world and really learning about what it means to love and changing your perspective so that you have the choice to change your life accordingly. These programs are abundant and I have had the opportunity to partake in so many of them. I have been a part of the breakout to an orphanage in Tijuana, Mexico. I have been a part of the Lighthouse retreat experience. I have done the Semester of Service program here in Dayton for a whole summer of working at a non-profit in the city. I have led porch groups, and helped freshmen get acquainted to the University and a new idea of vocation through the summer Callings program. I have been a member for a Marianist Student Community for 2 years, and I have worked at the Write Place for 3. All of these experiences empowered me to go to Central America through the Center for Global Education’s program at Augsburg College, and to end up at Camp Mowana this past summer. Through all of these experiences the past few years, I have found so much truth about love that I did not know before. I have met so many people who have inspired my faith and pushed me to the edges of my comfort zone and off into the unknown. These people have become my friends, they have become my inspirations, they have become huge parts of the way that I define love.
But society has gotten muddled somewhere recently. I have fallen victim to it, too. We feel like we should use language to mediate our experiences to other people. We want so desperately for other people to know what we know and to have experienced what we have experienced that we narrow those experiences down into a four sentence facebook status, we instagram photos of the experience because we miss it so much and we want people to know how important it is to us, we do these things to help us cope with moving forwards from them. To help us “grow” with those things and make us into who we are. And while these experiences are not any smaller, any less significant, any less meaningful to US—to people who HAVEN’T experienced them, our coping method becomes like a falsely advertised love. It becomes something that looks like an adventure that people want to take. It becomes a trip worth the money. It becomes something that everyone is constantly chasing after. But the love that we experience is something that happens upon us, like the gift of grace from God. We try to communicate it because it has become such a huge part of who we are. We want to communicate it because part of how this love continues for us is through sharing it.
But are we doing a disservice to these experiences when we condense them into a facebook status? When we condense them into a “life event” on our timeline on facebook? What have we made love into? Technology is trying so hard to mediate, and it is doing an even poorer job than language can. We tweet about our struggles & our joys. We try to convey love to someone through a facebook post or a photo we find on pinterest.
I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the UD breakout and immersion programs and retreats have gotten a lot more popular than they were when I first started at UD. Some people are just trying to share their experiences—and this causes other people to try to pursue that wonderful and undeniable feeling that comes from helping other people and from loving in radical ways.
But I am challenging you to take a step back. We are losing sight of what love really is. What love really can be. “God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” 1 John 4: 8-12.
It is not about us. As much as I get out of loving, and about sharing that experience with other people, it is much more important that I simply love people than that they “know what I know” or “see what I’ve seen” or “do what I’ve done,” or “go where I’ve gone.” Because really, what we have experienced in all of these things is that real and genuine experience of love. That experience of God. And when you come back from these things—if you manifest that love, then every single person that encounters you from then on should also be encountering God.
So, in no way am I saying that you shouldn’t share these things. In many of these situations, it is both our duty and our responsibility to take what we have learned and put it into action within our lives. It is our responsibility to share the stories that we heard and talk about the people that we’ve met. But we need to do that in a way that honors other people’s experiences, other people’s need to learn these things themselves. If they chase after the “adventure” that we talk about, then they will be chasing after all the wrong things. If they follow in our footsteps in hopes of hearing the exact same stories or doing the same crazy things, then they will be making their own path that does not go near the things that we happened upon when we dove headfirst into these experiences. If anyone else is like me, I know before I go into these experiences and these communities that there is so much potential for greatness and for growth and for the discovery of true love—the discovery of God. Yet it is JUST that for us; we know in the beginning that there is that potential, but we don’t go seeking those things exactly. Like I said, they happen upon us.
So what are we doing to the experience of love? What are we doing to that great potential we knew about before we went for these other people who hear from us on facebook or blogs about these experiences? Are we creating pictures that are unrealistic to what the experience really was? Are we potentially belittling love in our efforts to maximize it for other people’s perspectives? How often are we telling people we love them and really stopping to think about what that means? I am overwhelmed by all of this as I have been stepping back the past few weeks to think about it.
However, I guess this is where we must start. Society and social media and college have been making me into a person looking for the facebook statuses that everyone will like. The pictures that will show how much I have loved in the experiences that I have had. Even the blogs that people will want to read. But I realize that honestly, that’s not really what my goal is out of this. I am trying to share with people—the way that I think, the way that I feel, the way that I function. Yet we have to be very intentional about this. We cannot change the culture in which we live when we do not pay close attention to the way we are interacting with it, and quite possibly perpetuating it. I want to share so much of what I have experienced and what love means to me, but I cannot do that without being intentional about it. I cannot do that without actually talking to people and sharing with people face to face as well. Technology is always going to fall short for love. Always.
So, don’t let your love get sucked up in the tornado of technology. Don’t let your experiences be reduced to uplifting blog posts or Facebook statuses or tweets. Don’t forget the importance of intentionality in sharing these experiences, this love. Don’t lose sight of what these situations truly meant for you—both the love and joy, and often the heartbreak and struggle that came alongside of them. Don’t forget that as great as these experiences and this love has impacted us, it’s not about us; it’s about becoming a vessel for God’s love and giving that to every single person that we come into contact with. We cannot inspire other people or share with other people if we set expectations too high through technology or false advertising of love and what it has done for us.
It is a choice every day, to share—or to keep to ourselves. But we must realize even more that this choice is not an easy one; the true commitment to sharing is not an easy one. It is, as I suggest, a real commitment. I no longer can ignore my call to this commitment of sharing, this commitment to true and genuine love. Maybe we all need to turn down the music and noise and text alerts and Instagram and Facebook notifications and stress of to-do lists, and remind ourselves to listen for what we are really being called to do.