This morning I read again the story of Jesus meeting His disciples at the sea shore after His resurrection and how He spoke to Peter, asking him three times if Peter loved him.(John 21) How those questions must have tugged at Peter’s heart knowing, that just days before, he had forcefully denied that he even knew Jesus. Jesus was so tender with Peter, asking him if he loved Him and then giving him the task of feeding His sheep. As I read the story, my heart once again felt Jesus asking me those same questions, “Julia, do you love Me?”
The word Jesus used for love was the Greek word agapaō. When I typed the word in my prayer this morning (I usually write out my prayers to God.) I typed “agape”. The Thesaurus told me that the word means open, astonished, amazed, openmouthed, surprised, shocked, and agog. Those words seem to fit the kind of love I have for God. I am often amazed and surprised by how He loves me and how He works in my life. Yet Jesus wasn’t asking Peter, and He is not asking me if I am amazed by Him, He is asking if I love Him with total commitment and devotion.
Over the years I have struggled to apply the word love to my life. I am not a people person. I have lived my life surrounded by people, interacting daily with them, teaching and leading them. I am energized by many of those interactions but also drained by some. I don’t naturally enjoy being around others. I would say I am an introvert who has lived her life as an extrovert. Many times I have said I don’t like people in general. That struggle has even worked its way into my relationship with God. Do I love people as God asks me to love them? Do I obey the great commandment and love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength?
When I attended Grace University we had assigned seats for chapel. I sat next to a very strange guy who one day wrote the same sentence over and over in his notebook. That sentence was, “Love is the feeling that we feel when we feel a feeling that we’ve never felt before.” My problem has been that I have looked at love as a feeling, an emotion or some sentimental, unexplainable emotion as portrayed in a Hallmark movie or a chick flick. After examining the word over the years, my conclusion is that it is not so much about emotion as about exactly what Jesus asked Peter. “Do you love Me with total commitment and devotion?
After explaining to a friend about my struggle with loving people, he asked me a question that has helped me tremendously. He asked, “Julia, when people leave being with you, do they feel that you love them?” I had to answer yes, because many people have thanked me for loving them. As I thought about that question, I realized that love is action. It is caring, listening, making time for people much more than an emotion. It is an attitude that lets others know they are important to you, that you have their back. It is being committed to helping, sharing, or teaching so that the other person’s life is made better. It is devoting your life to others.
As I think about God asking me if I love Him, I realize that I do. I am completely committed to hearing Him, following Him, obeying Him. I am devoted to God and would never think of giving up on Him. He is the most important person in my life. And with that realization, I also understand that I really do love many people. I am committed to being their friend, willing to do whatever I can to help them work out their problems, grow in their knowledge of God, or simply enjoy sharing life with them.
So as I think about an answer to the questioning of Jesus, my answer is yes.