For three days this week, I attended a writer’s retreat on the beautiful conference grounds in my city. It was a wonderful time of reuniting with old friends and making new ones. As it always is, it was a joy to gather with others who share both my faith and my passions.
It was also a time of being gently pushed out of my comfort zone. At one mealtime, a small stone with a single word carved on one side and a Bible verse on the other was left at each place, meant to be used as a writing prompt. Near the end of the retreat, we were encouraged to share a piece inspired by that word. I did manage to both write something and muster up the courage to get up and share it. Although it was raw and rough, and still is, I read it to my fellow writers and I will share it here:
I rolled the stone over and over in my palm. The one word engraved on its side was meant to inspire me to write, to capture the essence of those four letters in a few hundred words. Problem was, the small word on the side of the rock was far too big to encapsulate in a few hundred words, or a few thousand.
I glanced at the words on the stones of the fellow writers around my table. Forgiveness. Joy. Strength. Also not easy concepts to capture in a page or two of writing, but a little more achievable. Hmm. No one sat at the place two seats over. From where I sat, I could see that the word on that stone was Peace. Now that was an idea I could write about. Peace like a river. Peace in the midst of the storm. The word conjured up endless possibilities and pithy proverbs. Could I stroll by, on the pretext of grabbing another helping of roast beef and gravy, and casually scoop it up without anyone noticing?
I sighed. Maybe I should just trust that the right stone with the right word had found its way to my place at the table.
But love? How could you possibly write paragraphs on love without sounding corny, or trite, a little too Danielle Steele or Nora Roberts? The word is liberally applied in our society—we love everything from our family to our country to pizza with extra cheese—using the same four letters for each.
In Greek, there is more than one way to say love, each conveying a different type. Agape, meaning unconditional love, God for mankind, Philia, or the love that exists between close friends, Storge, the love that grows between family members, and Eros, or romantic love. The distinctions are helpful, and could really be useful in English, possibly with the addition of one for the love of pizza or maybe chocolate.
But my assignment won’t be written in Greek, and neither was the word on my stone, so I was stuck. The lyrics of a myriad of schmaltzy pop songs floated through my head. Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all. What the world needs now is love, sweet love. All you need is love. When a man loves a woman. Crazy little thing called love. None of which, in my opinion, come close to capturing the true meaning of the word, likely because its overuse has rendered the word virtually meaningless.
Then two lessons from my childhood Sunday school lessons flitted in, driving out the musical drivel, thankfully. God is love, and greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
Ah. God is love, and what Christ did on the cross, that was love. No wonder I can’t find the words to express it; love–true, unconditional, Godly love–is inexpressible. It is not a word carved in stone, it is the Word hanging on a tree. For me. For all fallen humanity. Love isn’t a four letter word, it is the essence of God. It is the ultimate act of sacrifice and redemption. The word hasn’t lost all meaning, it gives meaning to everything and everyone in existence.
So what do I do with this now, this tiny word printed across a small rock? If I truly grasp that God is love and in love he gave himself for me, what can I do but love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love my neighbour as myself?
Because what matters is not how we say that little word, it is how we live it out in our lives.
Press on, my friends.