Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Why is Love So Hard?

Why is love so hard?  When you think about the biblical command to love your neighbor as yourself, it sounds so easy.  When you try to live it, you discover it is anything but.  Why is that?  For a species that seems to want to love and be love - even needs to love and be loved - why is the thing most central to our emotional, psychological and spiritual (btw, I think those are all wrapped up into one, inseparable package) well-being so hard to do?

I think part of the problem is this.  A lot of us see the opposite of love as hate.  It is not.  The opposite of love is self-centeredness

The New Living Translation of the Bible describes love this way in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7;
4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

When you look at what this passage says love is and what it is not, you can distill both categories down to what is giving and what is self-centered, respectively.

Love gives and does not require receiving anything back.  It gives only with the hope - not the requirement - that love will be returned.  And very often, love is not returned.  Or maybe love is returned, but because we humans are broken and inconsistent creatures, the ones we love sometimes act out of self-interest and when they do, it stings.  Of course, we would never do that to the ones we love, right?  But, you know, others might do it to us.

Back to the why question. When there is so much at stake for us relationally with the people who matter the most to us, and when we know that we have been loved so radically by God, why do we find it so hard to love? 

I think it is because we just don't know how to give with no strings attached.  I was visiting with a friend this week about this.  He is one of the most giving people I know, but he confessed that he frequently feels wounded by those closest to him.  Any Dad knows that that feeling.  My Dad did too...because of my sister, of course.  Not me.  And feeling wounded is natural.  It will happen.  But when it does, the question I have to ask myself is this; "Am I wounded because I feel like this person I love has offended me, or is it because I am grieving the damage done to our relationship?" 

If I am offended, I probably have strings attached.  I am allowing some self-centeredness to creep in and junk up that relationship.  But if I am mostly just grieving the damage done and longing for the chance to forgive and have the relationship restored, then I am probably on the right track.  I'm still invested.  I'm still committed.  I'm not wanting to pick up my ball and go home.  I'm not interested in thoughts like, "You hurt me, I will hurt you back."  I'm sticking this one out.  You matter too much.  I'm still willing to give.  That's what love does.  Love gives.

And we need the grace that Jesus gives to pull this off.  The only way to be able to love so unconditionally is to follow in the way of the one who loves us the same way.  This is a daily thing.  I don't know about you, but I need a Savior every day that gives me the grace I need to love what is often an unlovely world.  But that's what God has called us to.  We are called to so love the world that like God, we give.  

One caution here.  This is not a call to become someone's doormat.  It is a destructive thing to allow yourself to be taken advantage of time after time after time.  When it is clear that the person you love is not willing to restore the relationship and make it right, then it may be time to draw some appropriate boundaries.  It does not honor the life God gave you to allow someone else to co-opt your time and energy over and over again to deal with a relationship that is destructive by nature.  So you may need to draw those boundaries, and that may be a painful thing to have to do.  But it does not mean you ever withdraw your willingness to have that relationship restored again, if the person is genuinely willing to work on making it a healthy one.   

So why is love so hard?  In a word, people.  We are funny little creatures that want to get it right, but without God, just can't pull it off.  So I hope that is where you turn in this whole conversation about love. I hope you turn to the grace of God found in the person of Jesus Christ and lean into that grace to give you the power to give and to meet this world head on with a no-strings-attached kind of love.

May you come to know how deep and high and wide the love of God is for you.  May that love sink deep into your soul and create a heart in you that gives and loves with no strings attached and sees everyone you meet through the eyes of love.  May God give you the grace you need to love even when you are not loved back.  And may your love be so complete that others are drawn toward Christ because of what they see in, and experience with you.

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