What makes you think of love? A romantic date? A mother caring for her child? Donating to a good cause? We know it when we see it, but what is love? How do we love others? Who do we love?
It’s a complex and tender topic and I definitely don’t have all the answers, but let’s explore what we can. I’m a Christian and believe that the Bible is true; that’s the perspective with which I’m writing to you today.
What Is Love?
Love is everyone’s purpose in life. Yes, everyone has specific gifts, paths, and purposes, but love is one we all share. If you are a Christian, then love God and love people is the purpose we all share. (Matthew 22:36-40). It’s a short and concise purpose, but you could easily spend a lifetime finding a new depth to this and applying it to your life; that’s what I want to do with my life.
I believe that God is love; our inspiration and source for love. When we place the burden of filling our hearts with love in a way only God can on a relationship, that relationship will begin to crack under the demand, especially a marriage relationship, but that’s for another day. That’s because there’s a need in our hearts that only God’s love can fill. It gives us security, fulfillment, purpose, joy, and courage. When we receive that love from Christ then we are able to give that love to others. Our “cup overflows” (Psalm 23) and spills out onto the people around us. Love comes from Christ.
Loving Heart vs. Loving Action: A Story
I’d like to tell you a short and seemingly insignificant story; I promise, it will make sense. I got an e-mail one day that a family from the church was having a rough patch; they could really benefit from having some home cooked dinners delivered to their house, would anyone like to volunteer? “I would!” I immediately replied to the e-mail. I put it on the calendar, did the grocery shopping, cooked the meal, packed it, signed, sealed, delivered, the meal is yours! Was this a loving thing to do?
Looking from the outside you might reply, “Absolutely, you gave something; the action is loving.” Thank you, that’s very kind and generous of you, but I must disagree. Despite the action, I’d argue it wasn’t an entirely loving thing to do.
You see, prior to the e-mail, I had been wrestling with my own self-image, was I a good person or not? This e-mail gave me an opportunity to prove to myself that I was a good person (TERRIBLE theology right there, but sometimes I fool myself). Taking a meal to this lovely family was a little bit less about them and a little bit more about me.
My secret motive didn’t change the flavor of the baked ziti or whatever I ended up making, but it changes the heart with which I gave. I wasn’t completely callous, I don’t think motives are that blatant. I was moved with compassion when I saw the e-mail, and hey, if it makes me feel better about myself, that’s a pretty good deal…except when it’s not.
Symptoms of a heart disease like this often find small ways to seep out. As I prepared for the meal I became overly concerned with how impressive it was; a sure sign something is off. I was short with my husband when he didn’t validate how wonderful it was for me to make this meal as much as I had anticipated in my head.
“My attitude of love must trump my activity every time.” -Lysa Terkeurst
My Love Isn’t Perfect Yet
Love is a condition of the heart that naturally creates an environment for loving actions. Don’t get me wrong, loving actions take wisdom, discipline, intention, and sacrifice, but for actions to have the aroma of Love, they must come from a loving heart environment.
Without this loving heart driving our “loving” actions, we quickly and easily cross the line into being manipulative, entitled or even a martyr.
Now, I didn’t deliver the meal with the right heart, but that doesn’t mean I don’t deliver meals anymore because I “failed.” I didn’t fail, I errored because I’m human. It would be a much bigger grievance to call my error final failure and give up on truly loving others right there. I should correct my error and be careful to not do it again because that’s how you handle mistakes.
Being Honest With Yourself
It can be hard to really look at your heart and see where your actions are coming from; downright terrifying. You can be open about the uglier parts of yourself when they don’t define you. When you know you are completely loved and accepted as you are, those dark spots have no hold of your identity or worth.
How Do We Love Others?
So, love comes from God and fills us so we can love others. Loving actions need to come from a loving heart. But what does that look like? How do we demonstrate love to one another?
God gives us a guide in the Bible, more specifically, in this case, the “one another” passages. For example, “Accept one another, comfort one another, honor one another, serve one another, exc…”
It’s something I’m currently learning about from a FANTASTIC book written by someone far wiser than me on the topic,”Love One Another: 20 Practical Lessons.”
I also created this printable after starting the book, to remind me of what I’ve learned and how it should change how I live.
Who Do We Love?
Who do we bestow all of these one anothers on? The obvious (and important) answers are your spouse, children, family, and friends. But there’s more than that. I am called to love the guy who cut me off in traffic, the woman talking loudly on her phone in the waiting room and the child throwing a tantrum on the plane. We are called to love those who are different than us, they might even make us uncomfortable. We might not understand why they behave or think a certain way, but that doesn’t matter. The kind of love we are called to give doesn’t have to be deserved because the love we received wasn’t deserved.