It goes without saying that we have come to depend heavily on our smartphones and social media connections. Especially when physical connections are limited in pandemic public health guidelines, much of our socializing happens on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube and the like. As a result, our social media behaviour—good and bad—has been amplified in a year of coping with more alone-time and cocooning in our homes.
In the comic strip, “Agnus Day”, two sheep friends stand side-by-side. The first reflects on Jesus’ commandment to love in the way Jesus loves—laying down one’s life for the other. “I don’t think I can love like this,” she says. Her friend replies, “It’s hard work but your calling is to love like Jesus loved.”
Reflecting some more, the first sheep says, “What if I just ‘liked’ the way Jesus loves?”
I don’t think I’m alone by confessing how good it feels when whatever I post receives many ‘likes’. Even church attendance has recently been tracked simply by the number of hits or visits our YouTube services get. Relationships in our virtual world can operate on the thin surface of this kind of interaction.
And then the irony of it: Research in recent years has suggested a direct correlation between social media use and feelings of social isolation.How can we be loving in this digitized environment? How can we love others in the way of Jesus?
The pandemic is causing us to re-evaluate and re-imagine what the love of Christ looks like. COVID has shocked us into considering anew what love (‘agape’ in Greek) means in our day.
In the life of Christ which Christians celebrate during this Easter season, we renew our relationship with God, with ourselves, with others and with creation. What is at stake, it seems to me, is the quality of those fundamental relationships. What we renew is the way in which our relationships transpire and grow in the love of God.
And it takes a little bit more than clicking on the ‘like’ button.
Last week Jessica and I were walking through the Grove in Arnprior. And we found a rare woodland flower amidst the stand of old growth Alders, Pines and Hemlock trees. Red trilliums are hard to find and spot. They take a long time in the ground—five to seven years—to germinate before producing the rich, dark-red flower.
To grow red trilliums requires a multi-year commitment before the fruits of creation’s labour are realized and enjoyed by others.
I thought about how these flowers can serve as a reminder of how God’s love in Christ grows in us and in the world. The trilliums need the warmth and light of early Spring to trigger a verdant flowering. They do best when the ground in which they are planted can receive direct sunlight before their competitors can take hold.
Their growth is dependent on many factors. Their flowering is truly a gift. A miracle, you could say.
On Mother’s Day we give thanks and pray for all who offer mothering love. Our prayer aspires to a kind of love that extends beyond her own needs alone for the sake of another—even one who is not yet born! Of course, this love is not gender exclusive. And this kind of love does not render the giver a doormat whose own needs are shucked.
Rather, love happens when our goals will aim beyond our own lifetime. Loving, in Christ, is a long-term commitment that reaches past our own self-interests and pre-occupations. Unlike social media which can keep us locked in self-centred narcissism, the love of Jesus expands beyond the preoccupations of any one individual of any one time. This love is a gifting for all people of every time and every place to behold.
And when we feel overwhelmed and incapable of this kind of loving, as poor Agnus the sheep confessed, let’s remember we are not Christian because of anything we do, but because of what Jesus did and who God is. “You did not choose me,” Jesus says, “I chose you …”
The love that grows from our heart is a gift from God. In the final say, we are not Christians because of our words or deeds, our actions or inactions. We are Christians because in our baptism, God said that we are. Our delight is to live into that calling to love others—devotedly, humbly and as we are.
Sarah Ciavarri, Finding Our Way to the Truth (Minneapolis: Fotress Press, 2020), p.112-113