The Context of Love

There I sat on a warm summer morning struggling to hold an enormous stroller on the rickety old train at the St. Louis Zoo. To my right, I saw a gigantic bird cage that looked old and worn down. I later found out that the birdcage (from the 1904 World’s Fair) was almost moved from St. Louis to Washington DC. The zoo ultimately formed around the bird cage so without it, there’d be no St. Louis Zoo. Then it hit me – having the context of something is everything. At first glance, the birdcage seemed pointless and uninteresting. But after learning more, I realized that without it, one of St. Louis’ most beloved attractions would’ve never existed. Many times I take this approach with the people and teens I encounter every single day.

With school starting soon, I find myself constantly caught in shallow conversations that reveal no deeper context. I will ask about school, sports, and family but constantly get caught up in “catching up” about those events. Do I push past what’s comfortable to engage a teen’s soul? Do I allow my days to be fully interruptible so that I can focus on the people Jesus calls us to love that day? He knows as human beings context is deeply important to us.

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is when Nathaniel becomes a disciple. He first responds to Philip with “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (Note to self, this shouldn’t be your first thought if you’re interested in joining Jesus’ crew.) When Jesus first sees Nathaniel, he immediately compliments him. Nathaniel asks how do you know me? Then Jesus’ response changes everything. He responds in John 2:48: “Before Philip called you I saw you under the fig tree.” I love that. What happened under the fig tree? Was it recent? Was it many years ago? The Scriptures never tells us. Whatever did happen was a big deal to Nathaniel and Jesus knows that. Jesus knows him at his deepest levels, just as He knows each of us. What fig tree moments do we each have, where Jesus comes to us knowing our full story?

Jesus is the model for us to follow.

By diving into each other’s story, we are shown more of our own. By getting context about others, we gain insight on ourselves. It’s such a simple concept that sometimes I forget that to love someone, I have to actually know who they are. It’s easy on mission or on retreat when that is your focus, but do we take that missionary approach to loving the souls around us? We don’t have to travel to foreign countries to radically love. We just have to be ready to learn.

Think about the people you love the most, odds are you know them the best. We can’t love what we don’t know. Loving people means knowing more than just a list of facts: high school they attend, their year, and their name. Without knowing the context, we risk making an assumption. And like with my story of the birdcage, I assumed that it didn’t serve a purpose or that it could be something better. In the end, I came to realize how it serves a beautiful and profound purpose. You are worth knowing more about, and you are always worth feeling loved.

The challenge I ask myself and am extending to you is to take the time to learn more about the people in front of us despite busy schedules. Will we allow our plans and checklists to be interrupted by someone who needs us face to face? Will we allow our journey to be impacted by the context that love will provide?


Image via FlickrCC 2.0, Logo added 

About the Author

Tim Claudin

I am a full-time youth minister in St. Louis. I’ve been blessed to visit missions in Uganda and Haiti. I am married to an amazing woman Michelle and dad to my little girl Connie. I love coffee, sports, superman and quoting The Office. Pizza is my kryptonite. Feel free to email me at or follow me on Twitter @timclaudin.

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