Out of the nine virtues of God, not enough can be said about the greatest virtue being love.
- Galatians 5:22 describes the nine fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Note that love is listed first and is the foundation for the other eight fruits to manifest.
- In addition to the word love being mentioned over 500 times in the NIV version of the Bible, in I Corinthians 13, known as the love chapter, the apostle Paul spends the entire chapter describing the characteristics of love.
- Jesus said the greatest commandment was to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second commandment is Love your neighbor as yourself.
So with all that is written in the Bible about the importance of love, why is it so difficult to love those closest to us?
Mother Teresa, the Catholic nun who won the Nobel Peace Prize and dedicated her life to working with the poor, wrote the following:
“It is easy to love the people far away. It is not always easy to love those close to us. It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our own home. Bring love into your home for this is where our love for each other must start.”
This was a painful lesson for me to learn. A few years ago, we were going through a difficult time with my daughter. When teens or young adults go through rebellion, it can be a very stressful and painful time for the whole family. It was no different for my family. I sought the advice of my spiritual mentor, who counseled me to just ‘love her’ and make our home a safe and welcoming environment. My mentor shared with me a copy of Rembrandt’s painting of the Prodigal Son. Modeling the father’s behavior in the story of the prodigal son, I was to forget the hurt and pain, and instead, forgive and welcome her with open arms. It took some time, but eventually trust was restored between the two of us, which was necessary for the healing to occur in all of us.
People try to hide their hurt and pain with busyness at work, church or other activities. Some of the busiest people in churches are some of the most pained and unhappiest. I know because I’ve been one of them. Once we begin to peel back the facade and confront the pain and its’ source, only then can the healing and forgiveness begin. Forgiveness opens the door for love to manifest itself once again.
So the story of the prodigal son is very near and dear to my heart. The story is not about the son, but the father. May we all have the capacity to love and forgive as the Father.