“Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.” ― William Shakespeare
“Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” – Romans 12:10
As 2013 draws to a close I need to say a few things about my theme for the year: love. I didn’t do enough writing about it this year, and I feel badly about that. There are so many things I wanted to write, but how do you write about the way in which you love others without sounding like you’re bragging? I’m sure there must be a way, but I didn’t find it. So I guess I’m going to have to just write honestly, hope that you can see my heart, and know I am not bragging because I have nothing to brag about.
What does love mean to you? God has redefined it for me this year. First I need to say this: love is not a feeling. You can feel love, sure. But it’s so much more, so much bigger than that. Love is a choice – it’s a decision – an act of the will. It’s just like forgiveness; you can feel forgiveness, but it too is a decision. I want to tell you a story to illustrate this.
Around 1989-1990 I was going to a home bible study that my best friend at the time, Nancy, also went to. One weekend we had an argument. We both said some hurtful things to each other – it was awful. But we both still showed up at bible study on Tuesday night. We avoided talking to each other though, heck, I don’t even think we looked at each other. Things got underway and everyone sat down to sing some worship songs. The singing had just gotten started when Nancy got up and headed into the kitchen. It was probably about five minutes later I suddenly had a dry throat and was overwhelmed with a fit of coughing. I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop without some water, so I got up and went into the kitchen. Nancy was standing in front of the sink looking out the window. She wasn’t making any noise, but her shoulders were shaking so I knew she was crying. My thought at the time was something uncharitable like, “she brought it on herself.” But as I stood there God spoke to me. He said, “forgive her.”
“What? You know what she said to me!”
“Yes, I know what she said. Forgive her,” He repeated.
“But… I don’t feel like forgiving her.”
“Forgive her,” He said a third time, “and let Me worry about your feelings.”
I sighed and gave in. “Ok, Lord. I forgive her. I don’t feel like it, but I’m doing it anyway out of obedience to you.”
(This whole conversation happened much more quickly than it took for you to read it.) I walked up behind Nancy then, and sensing me there she turned around. I looked at my friend standing there with tears pouring down her face and the ice around my heart melted. I looked at her and thought, “this is my friend and I love her.” I opened my arms and she stepped into them, put her head on my shoulder, and sobbed. God provided the feelings of love and forgiveness AFTER I made the choice to forgive her.
Love is a lot like that. I don’t believe that the “feelings” of love always come first. Sometimes the choice has to come first and the feelings follow. This may not be the best example, but it’s the first one that jumps to mind. There was a period of well over a year in the first half of my marriage when I didn’t feel anything for my husband at all. I was emotionally numb. But I got up every morning, reminded myself that I loved him, prayed hard, read what the bible said about love, and, to the best of my ability at the time, treated him as though I loved him even though I wasn’t feeling it. And when my feelings eventually came back they came back stronger than ever and they continued to grow stronger for the remainder of our marriage.
The point? Make the choice, act on it, and if God is in it, the feelings will follow in His time.
“Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.” ― Robert A. Heinlein
I can’t tell you how many times over the last year I have been tempted, in my natural selfishness, to walk away and NOT do the loving thing for someone. Whether it’s getting down on sore knees to reach something at the back of a bottom shelf in the store for an elderly woman, bringing a gift to someone after discovering this person has tried to sabotage my reputation, offering my help to someone at work whom I don’t like and who clearly doesn’t like me, doing some extra shoveling when I really don’t feel like it, putting all of the trash barrels away and not just my own (when I remember to bring my own in on trash day, that is!), cooking for someone when I don’t feel up to doing anything, cleaning at my friends’ house after a long day at work… trust me when I say I don’t do these things because I’m a great person. I’m not. Sometimes I even grumble (silently, to God). It’s love, GOD’S LOVE, that fuels me to do these things.
“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” – Romans 13:8
Last December 31 I asked God to teach me how to love others His way – selflessly. This is what He’s been teaching me. When I’m feeling selfish and self-centered, I hear God’s voice inside me, “what is the loving thing to do here?” And I know. And when, acting against every natural instinct I have, I reach outside of my comfort zone and do the loving thing I may be a little more tired, a little more sore, or my bank account may have a little less in it, but I will never, ever be sorry. When I do these things I know God wants me to do, He gives me the strength I need to do them. Sometimes I need to actually start doing them first, but He always comes through. For example, in the last snowstorm we had I ran out of steam even before I had finished shoveling my own car out and I was seriously tempted to stop there. But my friend in the apartment upstairs fractured her wrist in a car accident several weeks ago and it hasn’t healed well enough yet for her to shovel a lot of snow. So I shoveled her car out too. And let me tell you – I’m not tooting my own horn here because believe me there’s nothing to toot about. Don’t get me wrong – I love Debbie, but my arms felt like wet noodles, my shoulder hurt, I was cold and wet, I was grumbling about having to shovel at all (winter is my least favorite season), and I just wanted to go inside, take a steaming hot shower, eat some breakfast, and go to work. (Well that’s not entirely true. I really wanted to go to back to bed, but I had to go to work…) And when I said in my head, “I love Debbie, but I just can’t do this…” I heard God’s voice inside me. He said, “Love… always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:7b) So I kept shoveling. And a couple of minutes in I was infused with new strength and I was able to shovel her car out too. Please understand me – I was blessed with divine strength to finish, but I had to start, in faith, on my own. I had to make the choice to do what God wanted me to do and act on it before God stepped in.
Love does not always just “come.” Sometimes we need to step out in faith first. But when God is in it and we take that step, He will provide us with what we need to go the rest of the way.
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” – Jesus, John 15:13
Love is also a gift; and it’s a gift that not only multiplies with use, it also works in reverse. I have some friends who tragically lost their three year old daughter to drowning this past summer. I have been going over there ever since then as often as I can to help out with a few things and you know what? I always leave there feeling like they did far more for me than I could ever do for them. They are such special people with incredible gifts of friendship and hospitality, and every time I walk out the door, I walk out choked up with gratitude that God has blessed me with such amazingly wonderful friends. What little I am able to do for them pales in comparison to what they give me, and it’s had the effect of multiplying my love for them.
Love is pretty powerful.
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” – 1 Corinthians 13:13
Loving someone, whether it’s doing something out-of-the-ordinary for a total stranger or reaching outside of our comfort zone for someone we know because we know it’s what God wants us to do, is, in itself, its own reward. Love for love’s sake is enough.
It is for me at any rate.
“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.” – 1 Peter 1:22
When I really love someone I love deeply – completely. They have my undying loyalty and I will, to the very best of my ability (and even beyond with God’s help) always have their back. Do I love everyone? Well I do honestly try to love everyone with God’s love (still haven’t perfected this of course, but God and I are working on it). A deeper, more committed love is reserved for only a select few in my life, but those that have it don’t have to do anything special to keep it; it’s theirs – a gift.
It’s the most valuable thing I have to give.