For the first time since 1945, this year's Ash Wednesday coincided with Valentines Day and it seems fitting to reflect on the significance of the symbol of the heart; very obvious on the latter yet deeply important in the former. Both observances have everything to do with loving from the heart.
Early on in our courtship days, my soon-to-be wife gave me a book titled "Love is a Feeling to be Learned," by Walter Trobisch. The following is a meaningful description of the verb love and from it we will examine two important truths about love: its happiness and its suffering.
The description reads:" Love is a feeling to be learned. It is anxiety and contentment. It is deep yearning and hostility. It is pleasure and pain. There is not one without the other. Happiness is only a part of love—this is what has to be learned. Suffering also belongs to love. This is the mystery of love, its beauty and it burden. Love is a feeling to be learned."
Let us look at love—happiness and suffering—from the biblical perspective and explore how merging the significance of Ash Wednesday and Valentines Day can prepare our hearts to more fully embrace the Lenten Season.
Happiness found in the Gospels is evident in the teachings of Christ, most often described by His loving behavior towards others, and then often quoted as He implores His listeners to "love one another as I have loved you..."
Within the context of that era, learning was taught by example through an apprentice-like relationship between teacher and student; the teacher often using the hands on, learning through experience, style of teaching. This style is called apperception, meaning you understand, not by hearing but by doing; then, and only then, do verbal instructions make sense. A rough analogy to explain this way of learning might look like this: by doing something to make another person happy, you begin to better understand—by seeing how you make someone else feel—just what happiness is really like. In a nutshell, the Lord is showing, is involving His disciples in learning that happiness, through expressions of love for someone else, is a feeling to be learned. Sound like the spirit of Valentines Day?
Then there is suffering, which we usually associate with pain, not love so it might take some reflecting on what follows in order to more fully understand and appreciate the fact that suffering is a critical component of love. Again we look to the Bible for understanding, especially those passages which record the sufferings of Christ.
The book of Hebrews; chapter 12: verse 2 reads, "Keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God."
We, as "mere mortals" cannot begin to comprehend the power of immortal, eternal love, we can only experience it. The spiritual discipline of fasting is one of many ways to begin experiencing eternal love, for when a person forgoes eating for a period of time the body, the mind and the spirit align, craving what the hunger for food alone cannot satisfy.
But you have to deal with hunger pangs—to suffer physically—in order to enter into a deeper spiritual awareness of God and his eternal love. The psalmist writes in Ps 51: 10, "Create in me a pure heart, oh, God, and renew your right Spirit within me." In this passage, the verb "to
create" is the same verb used in Genesis 1:1: "In the beginning God created..." All this is to say, we cannot will ourselves to have this kind of love, it has to be created within by the power of love from above.
Suffering-love does not want to bypass or to shorten physical and or emotional pain, it anticipates what is to come, to long for the results that suffering will bring. I encourage you to look at Lent as a time of anticipating change from within, of envisioning what it is like to express
more deeply—by what you do and what you say—what eternal love looks like.
Suffering, through expressions of longing for eternal love, is a feeling to be learned. Sound like Ash Wednesday's doorway to the season of Lent?
Have a blessed Lenten season!