We are following the themes of peace, joy, hope & love during Advent at UCF this year – and last week we looked at Love. When I replaced the bag in my kitchen bin, I saw the new refills had a slogan printed on them. It certainly gave me pause for thought – it said
What does that mean? We use love in many different ways – and maybe some of those uses refer to quite trivial affection, and it would seem quite reasonable to another person that this is some issue on which it is foolish to waste one’s love. For instance
- I love watching “I’m a Celebrity, Get me out of here”
- I love eating Blue Stilton and drinking Port
- I love listening to the Manic Street Preachers
- I love watching any film starring Brad Pitt
- I love surfing the waves in Cornwall in the winter
- I love reading War and Peace [in the original Russian]
I would not say any of the above phrases, I hasten to add – and find it hard to understand how people ‘love’ those things, but they do. I might feel they are wasting time and energy – but are they ‘wasting love’? Surely real love is about relationships – the Good Book tells us to love the Lord our God, and to love our neighbour. Is love for other people something that is wasted? I love my family, and know that they love me – it is reciprocated. But what about unconditional love that apparently receives nothing in return?
- the Street Pastors who walk out on cold, dark nights and help drunken girls as they stumble out of nightclubs and vomit in doorways
- the Salvation Army lass who works every evening at the soup kitchen, freely giving away warm food to homeless people
- the Ebola nurses who risks their own lives, tending people too sick to speak, or to show any response.
- the volunteers who spend Sunday afternoons clearing litter, and dog-mess and condoms and needles from the playground, and scrubbing away the obscene graffiti, so that the children on the sink estate have somewhere more pleasant to play – and then go back the following Sunday and do it all over again.
Are these people wasting their love? Are they being foolish? I’ve always thought it a shame that we speak of “The parable of Prodigal Son” – and use the word prodigal in such a pejorative way. As if “giving or spending freely” is always a negative, wasteful thing. There were, after all, two sons, and the story is really about the Prodigal Father
Many would say he wasted his money on his boy – because the lad went out and wasted it on ‘riotous living’. But in the end, the boy came to his senses and return to his father [as we see in Rembrandt’s painting]
I showed Bob the bin bag, and asked him what he thought. Wisely he said he felt they’d missed out the punctuation. Put a comma in, and it alters the whole meaning of the slogan, inviting us to change our behaviour.
Don’t waste, love
Love never gives up; and its faith, hope, and patience never fail.