“But the greatest of these is love.” – 1 Corinthians 13:13
“What the world needs now is love sweet love,” so claims the 1965 hit song co-written by Hal David and Burt Bacharach and recorded by Jackie De Shannon. That song’s been going through my mind lately, partly because I do believe that’s what the world is badly in need of. But also, in just a few short weeks Tee and I will be celebrating forty-eight years of marriage (you can hold the applause for now, we’re not quite there yet) and how both of us marvel at how much we still love each other, more in fact than ever. Well, that’s sweet and romantic you’re probably thinking. But it’s not the warm and fuzzy feelings I’m talking about – although, we do still have that too. Rather, what I’m referring to is love as a verb, the intentional and ongoing hard work of loving. And as for the warm and fuzzy feelings, they’re a mere side benefit derived from working at it.
In his 2008 book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell claims that “ten thousand hours is the magic number for greatness.” Based on his studies of elite performers, Gladwell contended that it’s “an extraordinary consistent answer in an incredible number of fields . . . you need to have practiced, to have apprenticed, for 10,000 hours before you get good.” Gladwell’s examples included Bill Gates who began coding as a teen, and the Beatles who played countless eight-hour gigs, for both grueling hours of practice and hard work, which allowed them to respectively invent software and modern rock and roll.
If ten thousand hours is the magic number for greatness in other fields, doesn’t it also apply to love? Like any other discipline, love requires effort and commitment, and endless hours of practice. It is not something that just happens, a warm and fuzzy feeling one hopes to be lucky enough to experience. No, elite performance, including love, requires practice that is ongoing. Which means that if my math is correct Tee and I are rapidly approaching over 420,000 hours.
Jesus was once asked what is the greatest commandment? Without hesitation he replied that we are to love God and love our neighbor. If we are ever to tackle the tough issues, divisions and crises of our day, we must commit ourselves to love, the kind of love that is a verb, requiring action and hard work, without which there is no love. It’s “what the world needs now.” Or as Saint Paul says, “But the greatest of these is love.”