Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Struggling to Love Well

"Love 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 wrong doing, but rejoices with the truth.
Love bears all things, believes all things,
hope all things, endures all things. Love never ends."
1Corinthians 13:4-8a  
Love is a concept that is hard to express. Because of this the Greek Language had many words used to describe different kinds of love. One word was used for sexual love, one for friendship, one for relational comfort, and still another for sacrificial love. As I have shared before, I realized years ago that I didn't know how to love God with all of my heart, mind, and soul and I was frustrated at my inability to love people well. I wanted to love, but fear, self-centeredness, self-protection, and a lack of compassion seemed to get in the way.

As I studied the Scriptures pertaining to love, God reminded me of the verse that says we love because He first loved us. I realized then that it is God who fills our empty hearts with love and enables us to love well. Before I understood this, I had spent a lot of time trying to earn love from people as well as God, not realizing Christ had already demonstrated God's love to me through Christ's death. The love I was so desperately trying to earn and trying to muster up to give away was something I already possessed. I had stronghold that caused me to believe I was unloved. It's sad that I didn't enjoy His love simply because of my own unbelief.  

I realized to love God and others I had to first believe God's love for me was real, tangible,  and  personal. As I spend time in His word, I am filled with His love and I am able to love others better. Sometimes I mistakenly think I am getting this love thing down and then God has me spend time with a group of people, which then reveals how far I still have to go to consistently love as He loves. Sometimes it's a ministry opportunity that He gives me and I find myself sitting across from a woman telling her story. As an outsider, it's easy to see how she hurts herself by believing lies and making the choices she makes. Sometimes, I get glimpses of how she is also hurting her family and I can find myself getting impatient and angry with her. I realize there is a righteous anger, but it doesn't take much for a judgmental spirit to meld righteous anger into unholy disdain. If I allow that to happen because I fail to stay connected to God, the love the lady desperately needs to experience is unavailable, the grace she needs to be bathed in is overshadowed by harshness, and the truth she needs to discover sure isn't flowing from  my mouth.

I think many of us experience this struggle with loving well during the holidays as we spend time with extended family.  We so often find it easier to be loving towards friends than towards family.  There are several reasons for this. First, maybe it's because we think we know each other better than we do. The reality is we are all individuals with differing personalities and experiences. In addition, the longer we've been apart from family new experiences and new people have continued to mold us individually, some positively and some negatively.

Second, we often have unfinished emotional business from the past and we tend to view each other through lenses that we developed growing up. We have a hard time seeing things as they actually are.
Our views are tainted by what we already believe.

Third, most of us didn't learn to set boundaries in families of origin and we allow each other get away with disrespectful and rude behavior. We know full well we would not treat co-workers or friends the way we treat family members; nor, would we judge friends as harshly as we do siblings. Most of us as kids weren't taught to handle conflict respectfully and because of this there are often deep wounds unhealed. Most of us weren't allowed to confront rude or wounding behaviors and if we tried to address such things we were told to suck it up, to forgive, or to quit being so sensitive. Now either shame or pride keeps us from having healing conversations, talking about pain that is being currently inflicted, and wanting to look more together than we really are.  

I, for one, often come out of the holidays with a heavy heart because I know I didn't love as well as I wanted to. I experienced and expressed impatience and frustration. I didn't speak the truth as lovingly as I desired. I participated in unkind gossip. I know the disappoint I feel is because I use the Scripture as a bar to measure how well I love. God describes love with some "is's," some "is not's." some "does not's," and some "does." As the verse above states: Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is not envious. Love is not boastful. Love is not arrogant. Love is not rude. Love is not irritable. Love is not resentful. Love does not rejoice in wrong doing. Love does rejoice with truth. Love does bear all things. Love does hope all things. Love does endure all things. Love does not end...mmmm....sounds a lot like the way Jesus loves.

I know during the holidays there were times my lack of love was obvious because it came out in impatient or harsh words. It came out in my actions when I left the room to keep from spouting angry words or made sarcastic statements followed by a laugh to make it look like a joke. It came out in my lack of attention when someone was speaking to me. There were other times my lack of love may have been invisible to others, but believe me I was wrestling with it in my heart, which is impatience, arrogance, irritability, and resentful thoughts masked behind a smile.

There is a fleshly part of me that simply wants to avoid big family functions and some ministry events to avoid the guilt and shame that comes from loving so poorly. But the Word says, "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I am nothing." This tells me that the books I've written, the sacrifices I've made, the money and gifts given are all nothing if I don't choose to love well. The truth is that it is impossible to learn to love well by isolating. I have to rub shoulders with others in order for my sinful and unloving ways to be exposed, confessed, and changed. But, so often instead of embracing exposure, I find myself wanting to blame others. I find myself wanting to criticize instead of dealing with my impatience, unkindness, envy, arrogance, and resentment. I find myself wanting to point out others' flaws instead of dealing with the my own blaring flaws revealed by interactions. I confess I sometimes want to walk away instead of facing the truth of how little it takes to not be willing to bear with another or give up the hope that a relationships can change, grow, or flourish with a bit of humility and work on my part. I am a person who desires quick fixes and instant gratification, but the truth is in this broken world relationships aren't easy because they are laden with emotional baggage and hot buttons easily pushed. It isn't easy for me who wants control so I can protect my heart, preserve my pride, and deflect the pain I hate to experience.

I often ask myself how I can love better. There are some things I've come up with--some practical and some of a more spiritual nature. First, I can eat healthy, get plenty of sleep, and exercise. This helps me to deal with the anxiety that rises in social settings. We don't like to admit it, but our bodies, souls, and spirits are intricately connected and impact how we relate in huge ways. As an introvert, I also know that I can take breaks when I feel depleted.

Second, I can check my expectations at the door of every meeting and social setting. That means I give up the right of expecting others to be a certain way, choosing, instead, to accept them as they really are. It means I give up the expectations I have of how I think we will relate and/or interact and accept the truth of where we are in our relationship at any given moment. It also means I look to God, not the other person to fix pain, resolve loneliness, and fill my love-starved heart.

Third, I give up the right to judge and choose to be curious about other people. Often their behavior is driven by what they have experienced, what they fear, or what they desire. If I am curious and ask more questions, I may understand a person better and have more compassion and be more caring in my interactions with them. I may also have the opportunity to be a conduit of grace, love, and healing for him or her.

Fourth, if I feel God leading me to speak His truth into a situation I can choose to take time to pray about it, choose the timing carefully, and choose to do so in a loving manner.

Fifth, I can choose to live loved. This means that I choose to connect daily with God and let Him fill me with His love. When I do that, I am more confident, content, and kind. When I do that, I am more patient, kind, and forgiving. When I do that, I am less confused, not as easily wounded, and not as offended by thoughtless comments, relational neglect, or careless actions. When I do that I am more concerned with a person's heart than how they treat me. When I do that, I am more about giving love than trying to extract it from others.

Sixth, I can choose to live graced. In this life I know I'll always love imperfectly. I can choose to wallow in my failure or I can choose to live life in faith, graced by God so I can seek forgiveness,  love even when it is messy, and move past my failures. When I do this, I'm more apt to extend grace. When I do this, I am able to value relationships enough to do the hard work they take. When I do this I become more like Jesus than at any other time.

So, living isolated is not an option for this Christ follower! He set the example of love by leaving the Safe love He knew from eternity to live relationally with people like us. He walked with, talked with, and ministered to broken people with a bent to sin. He shared His heart, confronted, encouraged, and bore their sin in His body, and ultimately sacrificed His life for them and for us. Comfort wasn't His goal, love was. Even when He was misunderstood, rejected, and slandered, He still loved.

The prayer of my heart this year will be: "Lord help me to recognize your love and fill me with it. Please give me the desire, the ability, and the wisdom to love others well. Help me to love You with all of my heart, my mind, my soul, and my might. Help me to love others with the same sacrificial love you showed me."


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Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!