In the summer of 1967 the Beatles released a song titled “All You Need Is Love,” which reached international success and became the anthem for the “flower power” hippie movement over that summer. The song had profound political implications during a time of civil unrest as result of the Cold War, Vietnam War and racial revolutions because it promoted an ideology of peace and the unification of the world as a global village. While the song lyrics were simple and catchy, there was no mistaking the song’s message: “Love is all you need.”
Nearly two thousand years earlier, a man named Jesus Christ spread a similar message to the world. He summarized the Ten Commandments into two simple commandments: love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself (Mark 12:29-31). Later, a man named Paul defined in clear terms what perfect love means in practice by outlining that love is demonstrated through patience, kindness, humility, respect, selflessness, calmness, forgiveness, honesty, protectiveness, trust, hopefulness, and perseverance (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). He even adds that love never fails (v. 8)—in other words true love conquers all.
Love Is 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, Photo Copyright (c) 2019, Charlene R. Gauthier Parsons, All Rights Reserved
The first Christian church was originally built on the above-illustrated foundation of love, but over the course of approximately two thousand years, the concept of love became convoluted and, in some instances, nonexistent. Somewhere along the way, the Church strayed off the path of love and ventured back towards the chains of legalism—the very chains Jesus had come to earth to liberate us from in the first place.
I witnessed examples of “unlove” in the Mennonite Church where I grew up, which caused me to experience deep confusion and hurt. I grew up going to Sunday School every Sunday and memorized all the usual Bible verses (“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” [John 3:16]) and sang all the songs about the love of Jesus (“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so”). Yet, somehow, I went through my childhood witnessing the exact opposite of what the Bible verses and songs said.
My earliest memory of an act of “unlove” is when my church’s pastor was fired and excommunicated from the church. I remember him as a kind, loving man who came to visit my parents when I was a child and he even spent time patiently answering any questions I had about God and the things I was learning in Sunday School. I don’t recall any visits from other pastors, not even when I made the decision to leave the Church. I cried when my parents told me that the church community had voted to fire and excommunicate our pastor. When I asked for an explanation, my parents said that the community and pastor had some disagreements that they couldn’t reconcile. I could tell my parents didn’t agree with the church community’s decision, but they continued to attend the church because there weren’t any “better” options in our little village, even though there were seven other churches to choose from (it seems schisms happened quite often in our area of the world).
Later in my early teens, a woman in my church was excommunicated because her husband had filed for a divorce. I remember feeling confused and angry when the church community made this decision because all I could think about was how much this woman was hurting after her husband left her and now the church wanted to “leave” her, too. Since I wasn’t an official member of the church (because I hadn’t been baptized yet), I couldn’t have a say in the church community’s decision. I couldn’t even be present during the meeting after the church service. As I sat in the car with my younger siblings in the parking lot, I was trembling with anger and it took every ounce of my willpower to keep myself from storming into the meeting and screaming at everyone that what they were doing wasn’t love. In fact, it was contrary to everything my Sunday School teachers had been teaching me.
For the first time in my life, I began to question my faith. The questions continued well into my teen years and I became angrier and angrier as time went on. Finally, when I was sixteen, I experienced an act of “unlove” by my youth leader when he angrily called me out for my questions of doubt which left me humiliated in front of all my peers, and it confirmed my decision to leave the church. I had been toying with the decision to leave for a while, but this event made my decision final. Of course, I couldn’t stop going to church altogether because my parents never would have allowed it (it was practically unheard of in my town), so I made the excuse that I wanted to go to another church in town because they had a better youth program. It was the only way I could “quit” church.
I spent the next six years in a state of depression as I began to doubt everything I was taught to believe in. The doubts and questions continued to roll down the hill until I had such a big snowball of doubt that I no longer believed in God’s love and goodness, and I walked away from it all. I decided I was no longer a Christian in my early twenties and I even tried to convince myself that I no longer believed in God.
Seven years passed after the act of “unlove” I experienced at sixteen that pushed me away from the Church. One day, I crossed paths with this same youth leader (now pastor) as we were both walking on our way home from work. I remember cringing when I saw him coming out of the church and I tried to quicken my pace so we wouldn’t meet up on the road, but he must have also quickened his pace when he saw me and he took it as an opportunity to walk with me since we lived on the same street. Even after all these years, I was still hurt by what happened when I was sixteen and I even felt intense hatred against him. During our walk, however, he surprised me when he brought up that incident and apologized for hurting me.
He didn’t ask for my forgiveness because he knew I wasn’t ready to give it, but his apology set me on a path towards healing. It wasn’t until I started dating my husband four years later that I began to learn the meaning of Jesus’ message of love and understand that the events of my upbringing did not represent the love Jesus had been talking about. In fact, these events were the chains of legalistic viewpoints that Jesus had already broken when he came to earth (but we, as humanity, seem to keep welding these chains back together).
Over the past seven years, I have been reading, studying and learning about unconditional love, but it has been over the last year or so that I have come to realize that love is the key to living a purposeful life. When the Beatles sang the words, “Love is all you need,” they were on the right track, but they could have taken it a step further and sang, “Love is all you do.” It’s a natural human condition to need to be loved, but in order to be loved, we must also love first.
Contrary to the Beatles’ assertion that love is easy, unconditionally loving another person (whether it be a spouse, a child, a parent, a relative, a friend, a neighbour, a colleague, a stranger, an authority figure, or an enemy) is extremely difficult, even impossible, because of our “humanness” and our tendency to put ourselves first. However, it is possible to love others in this way if we love God first and if we acknowledge that He loves us. His love not only frees us from the restraints of sin, but it also changes us so profoundly that we hardly recognize ourselves.
When Jesus came to this earth to free us, he didn’t come to enforce legalism; He came to show us unconditional love and set us free. He spent time with the lowliest of people (women, children, the sick, the poor, the thugs and lowlifes, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the demon-possessed, the lost sheep, etc.) and demonstrated God’s pure and unconditional love to them. This act of love was revolutionary for its time and it had such a profound impact on all these people that they were utterly and completely changed inside out. Not only did they discover that they were loved for who and what they were, but they had a newfound purpose to direct their lives, which was to love others as much as God loved them.
Love can do absolutely amazing things and can even accomplish the seemingly hopeless and impossible things. If every person on this planet stepped outside of their own narrow-minded bubble and extended unconditional love to another human being regardless of the cost, the effects would be incredible: there would be no more war, no more murder, no more cruelty, no more hatred, no more racism, no more sexism, no more destruction. This would be the ultimate “flower power” hippie movement that would change the world for the better.
As utopian and ideal as this kind of world sounds, it’s not impossible to achieve if only we remember that loving others is the most important thing we need to do in all of our relationships and interactions, and that regardless of our beliefs, circumstances, laws and legalisms, love trumps them all.
You are not alone.
You. Are. Loved.
I hope you find love, hope and peace in these words.