Disclaimer: Love is a big topic that covers so many angles that I could never do it complete justice, nor am I claiming to understand love, or practice it perfectly. This post simply comes from a homework assignment that I gave my grade seven English class a couple of weeks ago in which I (and hopefully they) learned something.
As one of the deans for the girls dorm, love and relationships are something that you see a lot of – especially because half of my girls are around 14 – 19 years old. In traditional Khmer culture, I’m told that girls normally marry around 16 and boys around 18. Fortunately pursuing an education can often slow that whole process down by a couple of years at least. I’ve also been told that when a young man and a young girl are publicly recognized as a couple, then pretty much that is it. They are for all intent and purposes engaged and committed! That is definitely who they will marry – even if they have to wait many years.
The Khmer men are romantics, they will give their whole heart so very quickly to a woman and often get terribly hurt. They can also get very angry and depressed if the girl they are dating decides that she doesn’t love him anymore – it’s just not the thing to do!
I’ve seen young couples get married just because they’ve been a couple for a long time and it was expected that they marry – even though they weren’t compatible (mentally, spiritually, emotionally etc) It causes many unequal unions.
Amongst my girls I have 2 that have been in long term relationships – that began when they were 14! One of the girls is trying to end hers and she’s having such a hard time of it. Her suitor is heartbroken and seriously pursuing her. She doesn’t want to hurt him anymore and still spends time talking with him. Which just makes things worse. I have another young lady, about 16 years old. She’s beautiful and smart and the object of admiration for many young men. This year they stepped up their advances and she has decided that she is ready for a relationship and has, it almost seems, been interviewing them to see which one she should choose. So far there are at least 2 heartsick young men out of this.
Khmer culture is saturated with romantic love. All their pop songs are tragic love stories. Many of their old songs are tragic love stories. I remember listening to them sing or listen to music and I’d ask them what the song was about and 90% of the time I got the same answer, “Sad love story Teacher!” Many of their ancient myths are tragic love stories. The movies and television programs they watch (many which come from China, Thailand and Philippines) are tragic loves stories. Two and a half years ago I was helping teach a grade seven arts class. They were cutting wood into a specific shape and decorating it. I was expecting fish, stars, flowers etc. Well the boys all made love-hearts and the girls all made swords!
My dorm girls range in age from 8 to 19. The girls and boys will continuously tease each other about who loves who. They are always trying to pair everyone up with someone. So even my 8 and 10 year-old girls are partnered off with someone! (They aren’t dating, it’s just the older kids will mercilessly tease them about each other) I was once told by a student that the worst thing that could happen to them was if their friends didn’t find someone to “love” and be “loved” by. This constant teasing, the emphasis on love in all their media pushes these young people into relationships, often before they are ready for it and usually with someone who may not be right for them. The girls are always asking me who I love and when will I marry. In the nearly 3 years that I’ve been here, they have tried to marry me off to nearly every single male volunteer, or Khmer man that has come through. Now I just answer that I don’t need to marry. Which thoroughly confuses them, seeing as it is almost the same as basic survival to them.
It makes me sad to see how Satan seems so successful at selling his form of “love” here in Cambodia (and most of the world I would say – just google “love”and see the images and ideas that popup). I gave my grade sevens the question, “What is Love?” as a homework question. I was probably a bit too ambitious for giving a writing task to my grade sevens this early in the year, but I was hopeful. Then, obviously, I was rather disappointed. Half of the class had copied out 1st Corinthians 13:4-13; which they had learnt from their Bible teacher in grade six last year. The other half of the class said that love was a feeling or something between a boyfriend and girlfriend. I had tried to get them to think about people who loved them and stories in the Bible about God’s love. It’s not that they are stupid. My main mistake was in needing the answer written in English. When I checked with some of them. They said they had more to say, but they didn’t know how to say it in English.
I went over the assignment in class with them. As a class the answer was much more defined. We came up with 3 things that love is.
1. Love is action.
According to Deuteronomy 6:5 commands us – “You shall love the Lord your God…” We discussed that love could not primarily be a feeling because feelings cannot be commanded. We also learnt that the word for love in Hebrew comes from a word that means “to give” Therefore love has all to do with what you give or do, not at all what you receive. Words are great, but without actions there can be no love. 1 John 3:18 says “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.”
2. Love is a choice
We must choose to perform loving actions. As sinful human beings we are naturally selfish and self-motivated. If love was natural we wouldn’t need to be reminded to choose to perform loving actions.
3. Love is self-sacrificing (unselfish)
Love is all about giving, not receiving. Our greatest example is that of God, and His Son, who gave everything to save us; as it says in John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” God loves us – and we know this by His act of giving. Ellen White writes that in man Jesus, all heaven was poured out to earth. God gave, even though He knew that many would reject His gift. God gives, because He loves, not because He expects anything in return. Although He does want our love in return. And how do we show our love? John 14:15 says, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” What are the 10 commandments? They are 10 ways in which we can perform actions of love to God and our fellow man.
So this is the definition that we came up with for love:
Love is choosing to perform self-sacrificing actions of love* towards all.
*see 1st Corinthians 13 and the 10 Commandments
I don’t know how much of this my students understood, and I know there is also much more to love than what I have laid out here, such as justice and fairness; but I hope they will think about this lesson and that it will result in an eventual understanding of true, godly love, which will bring about true joy and peace.
Take time to think about the many more ways in which God shows us His love. From waking you up each morning, sustaining your life, giving you energy, creating such beauty in nature. He paints the sky for our pleasure. He places rainbows in the clouds to remind us of His promises. He gives us His Word, He is always faithful, He is always with us; and there’s so much more.
And if your curious minded, read through 1st John -all those verses that mention love – and think about them with this definition of love in mind. I’ve been really challenged and blessed as I have done this for the past couple of weeks.
I purpose in my heart, by the grace and strength of God, to perform actions of love to God and all.