Tag Archives: love

Whom do you love?

For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? (Matthew 5:46-47, HCSB)

I’m hurt, and if I’m honest, I’m angry. Sad to say, there isn’t one without the other. When someone lets the sharp words fly, they slice me right off the vine. I’m not abiding any more, I’m cut off— from joy, from peace— shriveling, rotting, drying out. It’s so hard to choose the vine over the justified (in my mind) ugliness. Love? Love them? My lip curls, my heart hardens. I don’t want love. I want revenge.

But that’s not the way I see myself. I think of myself in kindly terms, as a noble-minded, sanctified child of God. Sanctimonious, more like. I’m the emperor with no clothes. I’m the pious Queen of Hearts. Off with her head! If I happen to glance in a mirror, I see a little girl hurt; I want to console, to coddle. It’s a fun house mirror, not true. A real mirror would show— I want to return evil for evil, painful blow for blow. I do not truly love.

Jesus’ prying questions expose a rancidness in my heart I’d rather not acknowledge. He knows, knows I am the one forgiven much but stingy with forgiveness in return. He knows that I need grace absolutely as much as the one who hurt me. After all, I sin against Him, but He gave up everything for me anyway.

Mother Teresa reportedly hung a poem on the wall of her Calcutta children’s home by a fellow named Kent Keith. The poem advises that although our motives may be questioned and our kindness rejected, we should do good, be honest, forgive, and love anyway.

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By Manfredo Ferrari – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35010569

Hmm. Love is hard. Love anyway. Between me and God it’s clear, my heart is a long way from His kind of love.

You might say there are two kinds of people in the world. Those who love you, and those who do not, those who are like you, and those who are very different. One group is generous and gracious, the other often critical and mean-spirited. And yet, according to Jesus, there is only one way for us to respond, His way— with kindness, gentleness, and respect. In short, with love. As He says,

“You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”  (Matthew 5:43-44, HCSB)

Jesus’ questions for His audience at the Sermon on the Mount pack so much insight that they easily expand to press on me half a dozen more.  Whom do I love, personally, practically, with word and deed? Only the lovable? Do I pride myself on the kindness I lavish on a lucky few? Do I think of myself as praiseworthy for the way I treat my husband, my children, my parents, or my friends? Do I expect a deeply felt thank-you-very-much when I spontaneously serve my household or my church?  Well, don’t look at me for reward, Jesus seems to say. To love those who love you is to meet the bare minimum standard.  It’s not extraordinary.Screen Shot 2017-12-07 at 10.59.54 AM

What is extraordinary is to love the person who makes me most uncomfortable. The one who just yesterday insulted me, the one who’s hostile and rude. To love both the people who flat-out sin against me and the people who look like they would if they had the chance. To love my political enemies and the irritating ones who won’t leave me alone, the one who betrayed me or the one who lies like a rug. That guy, he’s the one I ought to serve. That’s the Jesus way.

Fine. It’s easy enough to structure my life so that I just don’t cross paths much with unkind or scornful folks— at least not in my free time. Surely the extent of what Jesus expects is civility when it’s unavoidable, right? It’s the Miss Manners gospel— be ye polite. Surely we don’t have to seek out difficult people, sit next to them, invite them over on our day off?  Right?

There’s an awkward pause while I wait for an encouraging answer. It never comes. The only answer I hear is the patiently repeated question,

What are you doing out of the ordinary?

Extraordinary love starts when I quit licking my wounds and pray for my adversary. What might she need? What could I give?

As it turns out, loving unlovable people is kinda freeing— it flips my attitude on its head, replaces my grievances with something closer to joy. Who knew? Forgiving, service-oriented, beyond-the-ordinary love isn’t just powerful for the recipient and the watching world. It’s powerfully healing and life-giving for me, too.

In a sermon (“Loving Your Enemies,” November 17, 1957), Martin Luther King, Jr. said, Screen Shot 2017-12-07 at 10.54.50 AM“I’m foolish enough to believe that through the power of this love somewhere, men of the most recalcitrant bent will be transformed. And then we will be in God’s kingdom.” Even the most recalcitrant? Maybe Mr. King was thinking about angry Alabamans with their angry, snarling dogs, but I suspect when Jesus issued the challenge, He was thinking, too, about the likes of me.

If you love those who love you…

Whom do I love, anyway? Whom will I love on today?

Photo on VisualHunt

Love Thyself

Last night at Bible study we were having a lively discussion about loving our neighbor when one of the ladies paused.  “Love your neighbor as you love yourself,” she read.  “How are we doing with loving ourselves?”  A sigh of understanding rippled around the room.  We are a group of young(ish) American women: we know instinctively, as self-critical, comparison-driven ladies, that we do not love ourselves.  The conversation veered.  Why do we struggle with self-loathing?  What kind of self-talk do we allow unchecked in our hearts?  Heads nodded in agreement:  we must stop beating ourselves up.

But is this what it means to love ourselves?  As cold is only the absence of heat, love is simply the absence of a guilt trip?  “Spare your neighbor shame as you spare yourself?”  There’s gotta be more to it.  Sure, lots of us heap condemnation on our own heads, lots of us chime in in agreement with the devil’s blame game.  Perhaps we are in need of a pep talk.  I remember Stuart Smalley, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like me!”  The things we ought to rehearse fill the airwaves on Christian radio:  I am a friend of God, I am a child of God, I am forgiven and loved.  Still, if all we offer a neighbor in need is a Saturday Night Live soundbite, I’m thinking we’re coming up short.  If it’s not enough to chirpily tell a homeless person “Dog gone it, God loves you!” then why is that the only way to love ourselves?fontcandy-4

Maybe Jesus was getting at our quickness to indulge ourselves.  Love your neighbor freely, as you don’t hesitate to love yourself.  We turn the ringer off and don’t answer the telephone when we want to be alone.  We pile the plate with seconds when we’re hungry, kick our feet up when we’re tired, marry our sweetheart.  Is this what it is to love?  To the extent which you endlessly gratify your own desires (good, bad, or indifferent), indulge your neighbor?  But that doesn’t seem to accord with our definition of love.  After all, love, according to I Corinthians 13, “is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  Love isn’t taking our children on an unending shopping spree at Toys ‘R’ Us.  Love is bigger than a blank check.

So what does it mean to really love ourselves as God loves, stripped of selfishness and pride?  What would a life radiant with wholesome, godly love of self even look like?  Love is a vibrant, robust set of attitudes and actions.  Not only does love not abuse, love does seek the highest good.  But it’s a peculiar twist to apply this hearty little verb to oneself:  how can I deliberately love me without being self-seeking?fontcandy-3

So I peel apart the passage one phrase at a time.  Love is patient.  Somehow loving myself means patience with my own lack of progress.  And yet God’s great love never makes excuses for sin.  What kind of love would that be?  So I repent, I receive forgiveness, I turn right around and forgive myself, and then I press on “to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”  Love, after all, perseveres.

Love is kind.  As I would not drive my children past the point of exhaustion, I let myself rest.  As I would not berate my neighbor, I do not abuse myself.  As I give good gifts to my children, I receive good gifts from my Father.  After all, it is true:  I am a child of God.

Love does not envy or boast.  So when my unruly heart leans longingly after something I don’t have, I pull it back.  When my proud spirit swells up within, I give it a stern talking-to.  To let my life fill with envy or arrogance isn’t loving, because it’s self-destructive.  Likewise, love rejoices in truth, because lies are corrosive.  And so love, while it forgives and keeps no record of wrongs, won’t ever coddle a lie or permit a sin to linger unchecked.  Love is strong enough to confront the things that threaten it.

Love doesn’t insist on its own way, it isn’t self-seeking.  At the end of the day, a giant handful of self is like so much straw that the wind blows away — empty, meaningless.  Love is God-seeking, because to know God is the greatest treasure.  To seek Christ in all His beauty is to fill with light, joy, hope, and peace.  The person I really love I will give all I have of Jesus.

And there in the end seems to be the answer.  To love myself is to love Jesus more.  This is the love that never fails, the love worth giving to a neighbor.  How am I doing loving myself?  Well, how am I doing loving Christ?fontcandy-2