I don’t know about you, but sometimes I need a good, old fashioned kick in the hiney. You know, the kind of kick that ruffles all my feathers and leaves me dusting off my pride!?! (Totally off topic, but my family had a wiener dog named, Hiney, before I came along. I’m not sure why, but that name always cracks me up. Moving on.)
Now, basically, this post is mostly me wrestling out loud. While, I believe what I’m writing wholeheartedly, I certainly still struggle in the “doing.” One day, though…
L O V E. The word gets thrown around so carelessly today (I’m guilty there!), though rarely it refers to true love at all. And, this version makes truly loving seem simple when it’s the hardest thing of all. See, I am not called to love only the lovely — those I agree with or like — because even Jesus says there’s no good in that (Matt 5:46-48; Luke 6:32-36).
I’m called to love bold and out-loud and unconditionally. I’m called to simply love like Jesus loves.
Yep. Totally simple. [Insert winky face and eye roll here]
True love, though…
It’s a choice – not a feeling. It’s an action – not a statement. It’s a lifestyle – not a moment. It’s a commitment – not an option.
It doesn’t always mean I have to like what they do or even like them at all.
It doesn’t mean I have to like or want the same things.
It doesn’t even mean I have to enjoy them all the time or approve of all their choices.
Love is more than agreeing with someone on most matters or having fun when we’re together. It’s more than sharing a common bond or good memories or loads of laughs, living, food, and fellowship.
Love may never even look like a love I can understand at all. It may even, at times, seem unloving when lived out deep in the trenches of life. But, it always moves toward someone whether by deed, word, or prayer.*
Love overcomes. Love covers. Love speaks. Love encourages. Love seeks peace. Love stands beside. Love strengthens. Love looks at brokenness and sees the beauty that is hidden beneath. Love looks at pride and sees the person that is scarred underneath. Love looks at shame and sees sadness under that cover. Love looks at anger and sees the fear it’s always masking.
Love dies to itself for the sake of another. Love counts itself less for the good of someone else. Love admits. Love forgives. Love waits. Love asks. Love trusts. Love chooses. Love prays. Love needs nothing in return. Love simply acts, no strings attached. Love deepens and does not depend. Love does not withhold what’s in its power to give. Love doesn’t always love perfectly, but it keeps showing up. Love seeks to glorify God and live in His light and truth. Love does not quit fighting to find the best in someone or the best in the relationship. Love holds open the door when every bone in the body wants it slammed closed. Love leaves room for God’s purpose and hopes for God’s best.
Love always longs to be reconciled.
Love is not only a two-way proposition. True love can do some of its best work on a one way road. It should operate regardless of any reciprocation. True love looks at another and says, because I am wholly loved by my Father in Heaven and fully receive the love He gives me in Christ (Eph. 3:16-19), I can do the most loving thing for you in any moment.
Though love sometimes may feel like it can’t.
True love knows, He CAN.
Love can survive distance of heart, mind, soul, and body. Love holds the invisible string that keeps a forever connection. Love depends upon and answers only to its source, God… Who. Is. Love. And, the LOVE of all creation calls me to love the way He does (John 15:13; 1 John 3:16).
But, how? How in the world can I love like this and not lose myself in the process?
I can’t and that’s exactly the point.
Yes… I will lose myself and that’s okay, because, to live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil 1:21).
But, what about toxic natures and proper boundaries and all the rest of the obvious sin and brokenness of people all around us? Well, contemplating any obstacles to love should always have us pointing towards scripture rather than pointing the finger, so I will head to God’s Word. And, the hard truth is, I’ve found more in the bible that says that it’s my own nature — most specifically, the action of sowing to please it verses sowing to please The Spirit — that causes way more problems in my relationships than other people ever do (James 4:1-3; Gal 6:8).
I’ve also found that in my struggles with others, and the often resulting desire to create “boundaries”, even with “toxic” people, validation of this position is rarely the outcome when I allow the Holy Spirit to counsel me through the scriptures. Nope. In those prayerful times spent in confession, repentance, and complete vulnerability, what I usually come away with is a knowledge of my own emptiness that I’m seeking others (instead of God) to fill; or, some personal issue related to comfort zones and/or strongholds; or, avoidance of places where I struggle to speak truthfully in love, because I desire human approval above God’s approval.
See, when I boil it down, I am responsible for how much I allow someone’s choices or behavior to monopolize, control, manipulate, affect, or even hurt me.** (Not speaking about any kind of abuse or dangerous situation here. Please see explanation below.) And I believe strongly that this type of personal responsibility is what healthy, God-honoring boundaries are all about. They’re also people honoring boundaries, because by holding myself responsible for my own actions and feelings, I won’t be enabling any dishonoring behavior in someone else.
Taking this even further, In Christ, my posture should always be one that receives love from my Father and seeks to share His love with others. See, I’m hard pressed to find any scripture that teaches me to meet my own needs, take care and protect number one, avoid trusting others while living suspiciously, or stay safely unengaged because some people are just too hard to love. Though, admittedly, for a set time, loving someone may require space for God’s wisdom and grace to work, eventually true love should re-engage in order to not allow the devil to gain a foothold (Eph. 4:27). And, I must always keep in my mind that we have an enemy who roams about seeking destruction of God’s children (1 Pet. 5:8); that every battle I face is never against flesh and blood… but, against the spiritual forces of evil (Eph. 6:12); and, that the enemy of our souls wants nothing more than division, distraction, dishonor, and death of love (John 10:10).
So, I will take my stand with Jesus. Because, Jesus loved us unto death so that we could love hard and true in this life here on earth.
But, this is so not easy to do. Not really ever. But nothing worth doing ever really is, is it?
Yet, I have an example. And, a power source. And, a new life created for me to do exactly what I can’t seem to (Acts 1:8; Rom. 6:4, 8:11; Eph. 6:24). See, Jesus didn’t need the love of people or any one person, because he had all the love he could ever ask for from His Father. And, that love freed him up to love without borders. He could love well the unlovely or even the downright evil. He washed the feet and dined with the one who would betray Him (Matt 26:20-30; John 13) and, while dying on the cross, He even loved those who put Him there when he asked God to forgive them their ignorance and bloody hands (Luke 23:34).
And, honestly, how often am I that same kind of unlovely to our Father, yet He still moves towards me and forgives when I ask it of Him?!
So, grasping at the heart of it all here… Jesus, when asked about the greatest commandment, says the entirety of all the Ten Commandments can be summed up in these two – Love the Lord your God with all your heart…and love your neighbor as yourself (Matt 22:36-40). Now, if I’m loving God first, the second part should be a given, right? But, there’s another first in His Word… seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you (Matt 6:33).
Hmmmm. Okay. So, then…
Do I want reconciliation in my relationships? Then love God and seek first His Kingdom. Do I want truth in my relationships? Then Love God and seek first His Kingdom. Do I want love, joy, and peace in my relationships? Then love God and seek first His Kingdom. Do I want to give God glory in my relationships? Then love Him and seek first His Kingdom.
Bottom line: Loving others well requires a complete and total love of and dependence on God… an abiding with and resting in Jesus (John 15:7; Galatians 5). Loving God is a requirement for loving others. Loving God first, frees us up to love regardless of being loved well in return.
True love looks upon another and loves because he was first loved by God. True love looks at another and wants them to have all the blessings found in Christ, and therefore loves the way she’s been loved. True love looks to his neighbor and sees a fellow image bearer and child of God and loves that image because it’s of God. True love looks to its Source always and allows its light to shine through into the life of another. True love looks at the unlovely and knows the only thing that rises above all other things is the Love of God. True love says, I am so totally and forever loved by my Creator that I can pour all that I receive into your life and still have more than enough in mine.
What freedom there is in this kind of love!?! What’s more… I want to both love and be a recipient of this kind of love!! Don’t you?
But, I have a confession. I’ve shared it before, but bears repeating here. I want others to love me, whether I love them or not. It’s one of the ugly, hard truths about me. I struggle with needing others to love me or I don’t feel okay. [Read: Loveable. Accepted. Valuable. Validated.] So, my being kind or loving to others, often has absolutely nothing to do with them, but everything to do with needing them to love, and be happy with — me. I can’t truly love others when I need something from them… even if it’s simply their approval of me.
And, here’s some even harder truth of true love to think about…
When I stop to consider how I can love well those unlovables in my life, it’s an incomplete picture if I’m not looking at the fact that I am the unlovable one in someone else’s life. Because, the truth is, we all have the same sin nature and ability to inflict pain. Some more than others, I’ll grant you, but pain is pain to the one who’s experienced it and it’s all being done out of pain received by the hands of someone else. And, just like I can reason away the pain I’ve caused another, they can reason away the pain they’ve caused me, so that… well, basically, we’re all caught up in a circle of blame and pain until someone makes the first move to save us.
YES. When we have a good grasp on the good news, we can see clearly that Someone already did just that on our behalf and we can live and love freely on behalf of others.
So, now… what’s my excuse? What is blocking me from loving wholly and hard and free?
Of course it can all be stripped down to pride, but pride often wears a mask, so here are a few options I think about…
Fear of rejection? Well, God will never leave nor forsake His own. Fear of exposure? Well, God sees every part of us and loves anyway. Fear of giving someone something they don’t deserve? Well, God gave His Son so we can be with them for all eternity. Fear of being taken advantage of? Well, we have been given everything we need for life and godliness. Fear of suffering? Well, Jesus suffered, so we can share in the light and momentary sufferings on earth. Fear of embarrassment? Well, Jesus bore all our shame. Fear of doing it poorly? Well, it is the Lord that works in us to accomplish His will and purpose.***
I think we all get the idea.
Jesus is the answer to every “No!”, “But…”, or “It’s not fair!” Jesus is the only answer to love because,
He. Is. Love.
And, we only love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).
*Concepts taken from much of Paul Miller’s material at http://www.seeJesus.net
**Disclaimer: This post is strictly about loving those in our lives that pose us no true psychological or physical danger. There are certainly circumstances which make loving some people dangerous or even impossible. In those cases, good Biblical counsel is the best course and an attitude of forgiveness and love can be lived out from a safe distance.
***Deuteronomy 31:6; Romans 8:17; 2 Peter 1:3; 2 Cor. 4:17; Hebrews 12:2; Phil. 2:12-15, 3:10