When Laura Ingalls was growing up in various places in the American frontier—Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Minnesota and the Dakota Territory—she wanted nothing more than to be outdoors working or playing. She cheerfully helped with harvesting, gardening and caring for the animals.
During the Ingalls’ time in western Minnesota, scarlet fever struck most of the family. The disease left Laura’s older sister Mary completely blind. Mary had to give up her dream of being a teacher. She was still quite capable of doing housework and sewing, though, jobs she had enjoyed even before she lost her sight. Laura often resented Mary because Mary was so good. She was always gentle, patient and uncomplaining. Sometimes Laura wanted to slap Mary for all her perfection.
After the Ingalls family moved west to the Dakota Territory, a minister told them of a college for the blind in Iowa. College was an impossible dream for Mary unless the family could raise a substantial amount of money. The only way Laura could contribute was to do something that went against all her wishes. She could become what Mary had wanted to be—a teacher. If Laura did well in school for the next two years, at age sixteen she could get a teaching certificate.
Laura didn’t want to teach school. The last thing she wanted was to stay indoors and study just so she could eventually stay indoors and teach.
Laura relented, however, because of her maturing attitude toward her sister. On one of their walks, Laura realized that she was changing. She began to admire Mary. As the possibilities rose that Mary could leave for college, Laura realized how much she would miss her. She found she loved Mary after all.
Laura’s first teaching job was at a tiny new school twelve long wintery miles from home. Laura boarded in a tiny shanty with a couple who could barely tolerate each other. The man was nearly silent. The woman hated the isolated pioneer life and had become unbalanced. She resented Laura’s presence, screamed at her husband and threatened him with a butcher knife. Laura’s only refuge was the schoolhouse. Though her students were difficult and she often felt like a failure, being at school was better than being at the shanty.
Back at home on weekends, Laura admitted to her younger sister Carrie how much she hated teaching. She didn’t tell her parents because she was afraid they would make her quit before the year was out. Instead, she doggedly kept at it. What mattered was what was best for Mary. Laura’s pay was enough to keep Mary in college that year and to bring her home the next summer. Only Laura Ingalls’s love for her sister kept her in that first teaching job. Love led her to sacrifice her own ideal plans for Mary’s sake.
In creation and in his Word, God offers us testimony of his love for us. But John says that God has done even more. He has made the ultimate sacrifice: “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” (1 John 4:9-10).
If God has gone to the ultimate lengths of love for us, we can only respond by making tangible sacrifices of love for one another. We may express our love in words, but our words are empty if they are not accompanied by actions. We may have warm fuzzy feelings inside, but our feelings remain private pleasures if they do not translate into deeds. We are even called to love others when warm sentiments are absent. Human feelings ebb and flow. True Christian love is not a slave to such emotional fluctuations.
Ben Witherington III writes about love in the Scriptures:
In the Hebrew Scriptures, hesed refers to a sort of love that has been promised and is owed—covenant love, that is—as in Hosea 11:1: “When Israel was a child, I loved him and out of Egypt I called my son.” Covenant love is the love God promised to give to his covenant people, and which they in turn were to respond with in kind, loving the God of the Bible with all their hearts, minds and strength.... Covenant love, like marital love, is neither optional nor unconditional; it is obligatory. This is not to say hesed is compelled—just as in a marriage, love cannot be forced—but it is commanded. . . .
It is sometimes difficult for a modern person, who associates love with uncontrollable feelings, to understand how the Bible can command love of God, neighbors, even enemies. But in the Bible the many terms translated as “love” do not refer primarily to feelings. They refer to decisions of the will. This voluntaristic notion of love is recalled in modern wedding services, where the bride and groom say “I do” and “I will” when they are asked to make their vows, not “I feel like it.” In the Bible, when God’s people are called upon to “love,” they are being asked to do something loving and responsive to the love of God, whether they feel like it or not.1
A young couple lived next door to us, not married, each with a long history of living with various other people. One day the woman announced to us that this current guy was the guy for her, for the rest of her life. There would never be another in the whole world. We asked if they planned to be married. “No,” she quickly responded, “a marriage is too hard to get out of. Too much red tape.” Her boyfriend may have been the only guy for her, but she was already planning her exit strategy. It was no surprise when their relationship soon disintegrated.
By contrast we remember the nursing home where Sandy’s mother lived for several years. Sandy’s father had died several years before, but there were other residents in the nursing home whose spouses were still living. We recall a woman who arrived one day carrying balloons which proclaimed “Happy 50th!” Her husband was in the nursing home, in circumstances neither of them would have chosen. Perhaps at times he did not even recognize her. Never mind; her love overcame all that. She was determined that nothing would stop them from celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary.
The pure and perfect love of Jesus did not always feel good or make him happy. In the hours before he was arrested, tried and crucified, Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane. He was about to give his life for the world. He was there in that place, facing that death, because he loved us. How did he feel? He told three of his disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Mark 14:34). He prayed desperately to his Father, “Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36).
Jesus obeyed his Father when he didn’t “feel like it.” Because he obeyed in spite of his emotions, we are now empowered to love God and each other, as John admonishes us: “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18).
What’s the main idea in this section?
What is one thing you can act on based on this reading?
1. Ben Witherington III, “From Hesed to Agape: What’s Love Got to Do with It?” Bible Review, December 2003, accessed December 6, 2011, at www.basarchive.org/sample/bswbBrowse.asp?PubID=BSBR&Volume=19&Issue=6&ArticleID=7.
Taken from A Deeper Look at the Fruit of the Spirit by Hazel Offner. Copyright(c) 2013 by Hazel Offner. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, PO Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515. www.ivpress.com
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