I read a small book by the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh titled True Love. His reflections made me think about how I exercise love as a Christian.
In the first chapter Hanh describes four aspects of love.
The first aspect he names “matita,” which translates “loving-kindness” or “benevolence.” Matita implies more than the desire to make someone happy or bring joy. Love includes the ability and the work to bring joy and happiness to the persons we love.
The second aspect he describes is “karuna,” which translates “compassion.” Like matita,” this refers to more than a desire or intention to ease the pain or suffering of another person. True love works to do the same.
The third aspect he names “mudita,” which translates “joy.” He writes: “It is not true love if you are suffering all the time. If there is no joy in your love you can be sure it is not true love.”
The fourth aspect is, perhaps, the most interesting: “upeksha,” or “equanimity, freedom.” Hanh insists that real love establishes freedom and brings freedom to the beloved. He writes: “You must love in such a way that the person you love feels free, not only outside, but inside.”
Thich Nhat Hanh makes me reflect on how those I love experience my love.
So I ask myself:
What have I done this day to bring happiness to my wife and children?
What am I doing to ease the suffering of others? Do I just talk about acts of compassion or am I actually doing something that helps someone?
Is there a quality of joy in my relationships with those whom I care about? Not the thin joy of a party, but the rich joy of solid friendships?
Finally, does my love set people free? Do I love in such a way that those whom I love are built up? What do I do so that those I love might more freely and authentically be themselves?
Hanh reminds me that real love requires a lot more than good intentions, words and sentiment. It is more a verb than a noun.
Love is at the center of a Christian way of life. Jesus is the model. We are to love others as God has loved us in and through Christ.
If we as the church claim even dimly to represent the love of Christ in our community, do others actually experience the love of Christ when they encounter us?