“So what do you think?” I ask my kids as we eat lunch on the back patio. “Do you love God with all your heart, all your mind and all your soul?” They both answer without hesitation. Rowan says yes. Noah says no.
“Why not?” I ask Noah. “What’s getting in the way?” He thinks for a minute, chewing thoughtfully on a slice of nectarine. “Well, I think it’s because God’s not right here, right in front of me. It’s much easier to love you and Daddy and Rowan. And Minecraft.” I laugh, because I know exactly what Noah means.
The very first time I read Jesus’ answer to the Pharisee’s question about which is the greatest commandment, I was relieved. “Is that it?” I thought. “Hey, no problem. I can love God.” Later, of course, reality set in. Love is hard – certainly hard enough with our real, live, flesh-and-blood family and friends, but even harder with our amorphous, intangible God.
The more I thought about that verse, the more challenging it became. What does it mean, for instance, to love God with our whole hearts, minds and souls? Like Rowan asked, “What is the soul, anyway? And how do you love with your soul?”
I think I’m pretty good at loving with my mind. I like to wrestle with Scripture and read theology. I like to dig into the Bible, pondering verses and trying to flesh meaning out of the layers. But heart and soul? I’m not so sure. I’m more pragmatic than emotional. I don’t tear up easily; I don’t profess love with abandon. Loving with my whole heart and soul feels a little too over-the-top.
A few months ago when I was writing the 50 Women book I was introduced to Hannah Whitall Smith. Hannah was a leader in the Methodist Holiness movement during the 1850s and ‘60s. A pragmatist like me, she struggled with the movement’s expectation that believers needed to experience an emotional connection with God in order to be fully sanctified. She often approached the altar call with a handful of Kleenex, trying desperately to will herself to tears. But the tears and the overwhelming emotional response never came.
“I am convinced that throughout the Bible the expressions concerning ‘heart’ do not mean emotions, that which we now understand by the word ‘heart,’ but they mean the will, the personality of the man; the man’s own central self,” Hannah later wrote. “It is not the feelings of the man God wants, but the man himself.” (from The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life)
Hannah’s decision to walk by faith, not feelings, was a turning point in her spiritual journey.
The longer I walk this path, the more I realize that there’s not a right or wrong way to love God. It’s not black-and-white. It’s not simple or easy, but neither does it necessarily need to be complicated. Like I told Noah that afternoon on the patio, we just do our best, and that’s good enough for God. Falling short doesn’t mean we flunk the first and greatest commandment, because God meets us exactly where we are. As Hannah said, God doesn’t necessarily want only our feelings. He wants our whole selves.
Questions for Reflection:
Do you love God with your whole heart, mind and soul? Which of those three areas is the most challenging for you?
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