American Christians have had it easy in many respects.  Living in a country founded upon Judeo-Christian principles has meant that our laws reflected those principles, and we have rarely had to defend them.

That is increasingly not the case, as Christians struggle to live their core beliefs in a culture that says more often than not that those values are not welcome.

Or does it?

Over the past few years, I have watched people I care for struggle with some of life’s most difficult situations: Unplanned pregnancies.  Children with severe disabilities.  Infidelity in marriage.  Aging parents with physical and mental decline.  Terminal illness.

That is a pretty heavy laundry list of sorrows.  One might expect those enduring them to be bitter, and might also think them justified in feeling that way.

And yet that was not what happened.  In fact, what has stood out for me, each time, is how love transformed their ability to face their situations—and transformed them in the process.  Not by my assessment—but by their own.  Families dealing with a disabled child describe her presence in their lives as a “gift.”  Those watching a dear friend fight cancer to the end describe the time they spent with him in his final days and hours as a “privilege.”  A couple that came through a rocky patch now say with conviction that their marriage is “stronger than it has ever been.”  Children watching their parents decline see it as an opportunity to give back to the people who held and cared for them when they were weak, helpless, and dependent.

Even more significantly, I have seen the outpouring of support and love for those dealing with these painful and difficult circumstances.  In person, or long distance, or even through social media, people have responded to these displays of love with love.  In other words, the love that transformed individual hearts and minds and circumstances radiated out and transformed a much larger community.

The older I get, the more strongly I believe that love is a power; a real force like gravity or electricity.  You cannot “see” it, but you can certainly see its effects.  It changes everything it touches.  And yet we do not discuss it enough.  We do not treat it like the power that it is.  (We leave it to be infantilized by songwriters and screenwriters.)

We do not discuss “love” enough, and discuss “law” far too much.

Too often the national dialogue in this country is about the law’s role in these crises; it becomes a conversation about “liberty,” “rights,” and corresponding “obligations.”  A woman carrying a child diagnosed with a severe condition argues that she has a “legal right” to abort.  Someone facing a terminal illness argues that no one can “force” them to live if they wish to commit suicide.  An unhappy spouse says, “No one can compel me to stay in this marriage.”

Legally correct though these “rights”-based statements may be (or, in some instances, if people have their way, will be), they are hollow and thin.  And so we limit ourselves unduly when we confine ourselves to the discussion of “legal rights.”  To the woman who asserts, “You cannot force me to have this child,” one possible response is, “That’s true.  Because no law can make you love her.”

Law is about force.  Love is about will.  Laws are general rules applied to everyone; love is a personal, one-on-one relationship.

Jesus Christ appeared on earth in as poor and powerless a position as it was possible to be.  There is a reason He said, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s.”  There is a reason He slipped away when the people wanted to make Him king.  Christ certainly had the power to “change the system.”  He did not try to.  He started simply, by speaking to one person.  And then two.  He cultivated personal relationships with those who followed Him—even the merely curious.  He loved all He came into contact with.  He changed hearts, one at a time. Two thousand years later, the world is inexorably changed by Christ’s appearance, His mission, and His methods.  And yet, Christ was part of no government.  His Kingdom is not of this world.

He is our model.  Christ loves us.  He asks us to love one another.  He asks us to love Him.  But He does not force us to.  Ultimately, our decisions to love or not to love are individual and free. Just as we cannot be compelled to love God, so we cannot be compelled to love anyone or anything.

But we can be inspired to.

What inspires us?  Witness.  Example.  Love.

The family that warmly accepted the disabled baby into their lives has not forced anyone else not to abort.  But they are witnesses to their love, to their child’s love, and to the child’s possibilities because of their love.

Those who held their dying friend’s hand as he expired are part of no national media campaign to force others to do the same.  But they showed everyone around them what “death with dignity” truly is: Dignity not only for the dying, but also for those who are, truly, privileged to have eased their friend on in that transition.

The couple that overcame their failings and recommitted themselves to their marriage are not forcing anyone else to stay married.  But they are models of forgiveness and personal effort and marital love.

The selflessness and humility of those who share their experience with the larger world enable others to see and think, “This is not only possible, but better. If they can love in those circumstances, then so can I.”

There is, of course, a place for laws, especially to protect the helpless.  In a society that worships “liberty” and “choice,” we often hear, “You can’t legislate morality.”  Nonsense.  Of course you can.  But you cannot legislate love.  A population unmoved by love will not be moved by laws—only restrained by them.  Those seeking to truly “transform” the culture need to utilize every opportunity to explain love, find love, and display love in the one-on-one conversations that inspire others to make better and more loving choices.

If it was good enough for Christ, it should be good enough for us.

Laura Hollis is a Double Domer (English and Law) who teaches Business Law and Entrepreneurship at the Mendoza College of Business and is a concurrent Associate Professor of Law at Notre Dame Law School.