Sometimes when Christians talk about love, we make it seem so theoretical. We want to make sure everyone knows it’s not an emotion. (Check.) We want to make sure everyone knows it’s not reducible to romance. (Check.)
Then we explain that it’s really a virtue, a habit, and it comes from God. It’s a theological virtue. And then we say the better word for love is “charity.”
Why? Maybe because it’s three syllables and suggestive of Latin.
It doesn’t matter. By then, no one cares what we have to say, because “charity” is just the check we write to the soup kitchen.
Can love really be as boring as we make it out to be?
Do me a favor. Just for a moment, put aside every catechism definition you’ve learned and think of love in a simple way.
Think of it as kindness.
Think of it as putting another person’s happiness ahead of your own. Then extend that effort over the course of an hour — and all the people you meet in that hour. Think of it as willful, intentional kindness extended to the person before you or behind you in the checkout line, no matter their mood or disposition, no matter the editorial content of their tattoos or the tabloids they’re buying.
Be kind to them. Smile. Think of something encouraging to say. Don’t talk down to them, but rather up. Saint Thomas Aquinas had a mind superior to every other mind on earth in his day. But he believed he had something to learn from everyone. He believed that everyone was superior to him in some way.
That’s no less true for you and me in relation to everyone we meet.
Love is kind, the Scriptures tell us. And kindness is love in action. Kindness enables people to see God here on earth, two thousand years after Jesus’ ascension.
To be kind is to be godlike. The quality that best describes God is mercy, and in kindness we practice mercy as God’s ambassadors. We smile even for people who don’t deserve it. We extend a hand to everyone, without discrimination.
Kindness is true power. It melts people’s defenses — sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly — while rudeness or aloofness just leaves people where they are. Kindness overcomes distances in a single bound. It’s faster than a speeding bullet. It speaks a volume of poetry in a single gesture or facial expression.
I see bumper stickers that urge us to make “random acts of kindness.” And that’s a cool idea.
But I’m proposing something more radical. I’m proposing that we make these acts not random, but programmatic. Intentional. Permanent. Constant.
I propose that we make kindness the face we show to all the world.
Try this, too: Don’t rush to speak. Pause and ask yourself: Is it kind? If the answer is no — or even maybe — don’t say what you were planning to say. Say something kind instead.
This is how you’ll change the world. This is how you’ll evangelize. Yes, go ahead and do the things you usually think about as “charity.” Yes, go ahead and pursue romance if that’s where God is calling you. And when you’re feeling love, enjoy the feeling — and thank God for it.
But don’t save kindness for a particular mood or moment. Make it always.
Behave as if your smile is the picture on the cover of an illustrated Bible. Because here’s the secret: it is.
God is love, and he has shared his life with you (2 Peter 1:4). When people see kindness, they see God most clearly. They see the Trinity. Saint Augustine said that more than a thousand years ago, to a world in need of kindness. It is no less true today.