The Rules of Love


He couldn’t find his ID.  And of course the teachers noticed.  His morning had been one negative encounter after another.  “Do they know that your grandmother just passed away this morning?”  “Yes, but they said that was no excuse. When I woke up to the bad news, I guess I left my school ID badge at home.” My blood boiled a little.  It was barely 9:00AM by the time the 7th-grader came to me, but no less than 4 other teachers had already given him grief about the fact that he wasn’t wearing the lanyard with his student ID around his neck.  Now I’m a firm believer in the rules, especially ones designed for the safety and security of the entire campus. But I also believe in compassion, and here was a grieving young man who just wanted to get through the day without being berated.  “Did you ask for a loaner at the office?” “Yes, but they’re out.” You’ve got to be kidding me!  My frustrations with my colleagues were rising.  “I tell you what, I’ve got an old, inactive ID card here.  Do you think if you wear it they’ll leave you alone?” “Thank you so much Mr. Bishop!”  I’m not sure if my act of mercy fit the letter of the law, but he bounded away relieved, a weight lifted off his shoulders.  And I walked away changed.

I can’t say that I made the right choice, and I wonder how many times I’ve acted just like my colleagues and didn’t realize it.  It’s so easy to choose the rules over the person. Thank God that Jesus saw another way. He tells us that God has chosen us over the rules.  So why do we choose the rules over each other? “God is love” is the simplest expression of the divine mystery brought to us by Jesus. And if we are truly made in the “image of God” as the Bible tells us, then it would follow that we are love.  But so often we fall short.  Instead, we are judgmental.  We are petty.  We are indignation, self-righteousness, bitterness, and even rage.  That’s the norm. We might have been made in God’s image, but we live however we choose to.  And if we’re going to truly live in God’s image, we have to choose something different than the norm.  We have to choose love.

It strikes me that love, by definition, breaks the rules of society.  Your child disappointed you—you choose to love. Your friend went behind your back—you choose to love.  The customer was rude—you choose to love. Your colleague was petty, shallow, and judgmental—you choose to love.  No one could blame you for choosing anger, punishment, estrangement, etc. But the rule of love leads you to choose the person over the rules.  A mentor of mine took me aside shortly before my wedding, and he put it this way: “Remember, son, you can be right all the time, or you can have a happy marriage!”  I think the same is true of all human relationships. Love is not concerned with being right all the time. Sometimes love has to learn to keep his mouth shut!

As Christians, we learn to see clearly what’s wrong with the world.  But it’s harder to see what’s wrong with ourselves. Too often what starts out as love for the world turns into a bitter rejection of its faults.  Imagine if God did the same to us.

So what’s the secret?  Richard Rohr says don’t stop at “What you see is what you get,” but follow through with “What you seek is also what you get” (...Learning to 159).  He goes on to say that “We mend and renew the world by strengthening inside ourselves what we seek outside ourselves, and not by demanding it of others or trying to force it on others.”  The truth is that you can’t change the world, but you can change you. And you can change your response to the world. That’s how you make it new. That’s how you make it more like God’s Kingdom.  Don’t worry about everyone else. Live your own life in “God’s image,” and love like your life depended on it. Make that your mission this Advent season as you reflect on Love this final week before Christmas.

Rohr ends his book with a list that I keep plastered on the wall by my desk:

  • If you want others to be more loving, choose to love first.

  • If you want a reconciled outer world, reconcile your own inner world.

  • If you are working for peace out there, create it inside as well.

  • If you notice other people’s irritability, let go of your own.

  • If you wish to find some outer stillness, find it within yourself.

  • If you are working for justice, treat yourself justly, too.

  • If you find yourself resenting the faults of others, stop resenting your own.

  • If the world seems desperate, let go of your own despair.

  • If you want a just world, start being just in small ways yourself.

  • If your situation feels hopeless, honor the one spot of hope inside you.

  • If you want to find God, then honor God within you, and you will always see God beyond you. For it is only God in you who knows where and how to look for God.

“Some Eastern religions have called this karma, the correspondence between who you are and what you can make happen. But this truth is not found only in the East. Jesus said the same, almost exactly:

Do not judge and you will not be judged,

Do not condemn and you will not be condemned,

Grant pardon, and you will be pardoned,

Give, and there will be gifts for you.…

The amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back. —Luke 6: 36–38"

(...Learning to 161)

Want to love God?  Love people. Live love.  Be love. Change the world by being the love you wish you had. And maybe one day love will become the new rule.