Every year, I find myself surprised by the sudden emergence of roses and heart-shaped chocolates a few weeks before Valentine’s Day—the bright colors contrasting with the dreary backdrop of post-Christmas winter. The decorations are an unexpected sight, sending some people into a flurry of planning, mailing cards to their list of friends, or anticipating a romantic date.
But for others, the approach of Valentine’s Day can cause mixed feelings of apprehension and insecurity. The media tends to portray the happiest people as those in romantic relationships, and pity those who are single. Story characters go through Cinderella-like transformations to become lovable, making them finally acceptable for romantic interests, deep friendships, and a positive status in society.
When Jesus came to earth, he loved people as they were, whether or not society approved. He loved unexpectedly. He sat down to eat with the tax collectors, prostitutes, and fishermen, people who appeared coarse and vulgar in a holy presence. Repeatedly, the disciples urged children, the sick, and the poor to stay away from Jesus, but Jesus reminded the disciples that his love was for everyone—even those that society did not deem worthy.
InterVarsity challenges students to love people as God loves them, unconditionally. For many students, living out God’s love offers surprising adventures, such as the experience of Lindsey, an InterVarsity student who transferred to Clarion University in Pennsylvania.
Reaching out to Greek students was the last thing on Lindsey’s mind, particularly with the partying reputation of Clarion’s Greek culture. But when she was unexpectedly asked to join a sorority, Lindsey realized the unique opportunity of serving this campus group.
After an unsuccessful year trying to engage the entire Greek system, Lindsey began again with a small group Bible study in her Zeta sorority. Seeing Lindsey’s persistence and increasing love for Greek brothers and sisters changed the way other InterVarsity students saw the Greek community—from an indifferent campus group to potential friends who are curious about Jesus. As a result, several students are leading GIGs (Groups Investigating God Bible studies) for non-Christians in fraternities.
For Matt and his InterVarsity small group at Binghamton University in New York, connecting with their fellow student Liz proved rather difficult. Though Liz’s previous dorm neighbors had often invited her to InterVarsity large groups, and had even led her through a GIG, they had now graduated, and Liz found herself busy with other activities. When Matt’s small group invited her to InterVarsity’s fall conference, they were surprised at her interest. Because of the cost, however, Liz declined. “I called my small group together,” Matt said, “and we contributed to make sure Liz got there without paying a cent.”
At fall conference, speakers challenged Liz to consider what role Jesus held in her life. Liz realized she needed Jesus to be her guide and committed to following him. When she returned to school, Matt helped Liz meet people who could disciple her in her new faith.
“What is amazing about Liz coming to faith is that it is the culmination of so much prayer and effort in the past year,” said Matt. Because students understood God’s love for Liz by first befriending her, continually inviting her to events, and giving financially so she could attend fall conference, Liz is now growing in relationship with Jesus.
Loving Through Brokenness
Through the InterVarsity chapter at the University of Wisconsin—Eau Claire, Megan learned how God cares deeply for people caught in the cycle of poverty. After graduating, she served in Argentina with Word Made Flesh, an organization she connected with during Urbana 06. She began building relationships with the Argentinean youth selling newspapers and begging at the Retiro train station, and she taught English in slum communities.
“Working with the youth, I realized they measured their worth by the way they were treated by society,” said Megan. “Often their families and the people that walk by them daily in the train station don’t see any hope for their futures.” Confronted with so much rejection, many youth turn to drugs to numb their pain.
“Sometimes the youth were rude, violent, and hard to love, but I began to understand these behaviors as expressions of the suffering and hurt that envelops them,” said Megan. “As I struggled to love them, I became aware of my own selfishness and brokenness.” Through her new friendships, Megan discovered the humbling reward of sharing joy and sorrow with these children.
On Valentine’s Day, we share our love for people through sweet cards or flowers. On a daily basis, learning to love people as Jesus loves them leads us to find community in unexpected places or reminds us of our own need for God’s love. In the process, people’s lives are transformed, and often our hearts as well.