Love. Is something I seem to be learning a lot about lately, and also am learning how little I know how to practice.
As Christians, we are told to love. To love God, to love others, to love our family, to love our neighbors, to love the church, to love our enemies, not to love the world, not to love money. We know that we are to love, that's a no-brainer. But to love the people we are commanded to love, I'm learning that this is a more difficult task that I ever realized.
"This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers" 1 John 3:16
Love is laying down our lives for others. But what does that look like? Sacrificing all at the expense of our own spirits? Doing everything that a person asks? Giving another person everything they want? That doesn't seem like love. It seems more like spoiling a child. It's hard when someone says, "This is how you should love me," and when you don't do, they don't feel loved. But are we really responsible for making others feel loved? This is hard for me to accept, but I do believe that we can love others without them feeling love.
A friend and I recently had a great conversation about loving others. About how loving someone means trying to meet their needs, not their wants. Meeting someone's wants provides instant happiness and the other person may say that they feel loved, but truly loving someone, truly meeting their needs should provide for their eternal well-being, truly loving someone doesn't always produce those warm fuzzies that I'm likely somewhat addicted to. It's easy to know what someone wants to feel loved, but it's a more difficult task, requiring prayer, patience, and understanding, to discern what another person that I'm trying to love truly needs.
Sometimes, people need the truth spoken to them, even if it doesn't seem loving on the surface. As an only child who loves to preserve harmony around me, this is something that doesn't come naturally to met at all. It seems that I'm learning these skills simultaneously as a therapist to my clients and as a daughter, friend, sister to others in my life. My supervisor this past semester, in encouraging me to confront a client about unhealthy behavior, told me, "You can say almost anything if it's coming from a place of love and compassion." I have a feeling that this statement will stuck with more than anything else a supervisor can tell me. It's true, if my motives are love, concern for the longterm well-being of another person, then I can say something hard to hear, but it can still be loving, and hopefully will be received well. But if I'm saying it out of fear or selfishness or anger or bitterness, then it probably won't be received well, and it's not loving at all. But this isn't my temptation. My temptation is to say too little, to preserve the peace. Maybe it's not even the path of true peace.
So, I'm learning to be better lover. It's a long journey, and I recognize that it's the whole point why I'm a Christian. There are a lot of things that seem good about me naturally. I'm good at being kind, at being considerate, at being thoughtful, and at times, being loving. But I'm also good at trying to protect myself, at fearing the loss of relationships, at being prideful, at being jealous, and all of these things hinder my true expressions of love. And this is where I need God to continue his work in me, to continue to bring situations and individuals who strip away the areas of fear and who encourage me to love more truly. I need His grace to make me a better lover.