"God died for you and for me and for that leper and for that person dying of hunger and for that person on the street…. It’s not enough to say that you love God. You also have to say you love your neighbor. Love, to be true, has to hurt. This requires people giving until it hurts. Otherwise it is not true love… Be the good news to your home people first. Find out about your next-door neighbor."
-Mother Teresa, as she dedicated a convent in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1995; c.f. “Sacred Pathways” by Gary Thomas; “Mother Teresa of Calcutta,” Charlotte Observer (June 14, 1995)
Honestly, I think I would be terrified to meet Mother Teresa. Honored, but terrified. From what I’ve read, it seems like she was a spitfire, not afraid to tell people her mind, sometimes to the point of bossiness. But this came from a place of conviction, her confidence in what she was doing was right.
What she says here is incredibly challenging. “Love, to be true, has to hurt.” This week in women’s Bible study, we discussed Jesus’ crucifixion and the question: Why did Jesus have to suffer physical pain as He died?
When I think about the sacrificed that the Israelites once offered as atonement for sin, I don’t envision the flogging of a lamb. I envision the clean slitting of a throat, a quick death. But for Jesus, the sacrifice was different— it was messy, it was horrific, it was profoundly unfair. And through it all, his mother Mary watched and as Simeon prophesied to Mary in Luke 2:35, “And a sword will pierce your very soul” as she watched Jesus suffer and die in excruciating pain.
As hard as it is to imagine what Jesus’ sacrifice is like, it does convey that the sacrifice was important and authentic. That God takes seriously anything that might make us distant from Him (sin) and that Jesus’ love isn’t about words or little actions. It’s about giving up a life.
For us, words and little actions are important. Because love starts with being willing to give up our entire lives to God and other people. But it’s not about what’s safe, what little part of our lives we are willing to give on certain times when it’s convenient.
Sometimes it’s the giving up of a grudge against someone who has wronged us. Sometimes it’s spending time with someone who you don’t really like to show them that someone cares. Sometimes it’s choosing to work in a field that doesn’t pay very much so you can serve. Sometimes it’s holding your tongue when someone makes a false accusation against you. Sometimes it’s giving up a friend who makes you think about the world in a cynical way. I don’t know what it is for you. But these are the little ways we can choose to hurt for the sake of love.