Monday, April 18, 2011

Love the One You are With

One thing Jonalyn Fincher said at MOPS Summit that really stuck in my head is that "if you love well, you will love less people."  I have been mulling it over ever since.  On one hand I think--yes, it takes time to love well, but on the other hand we are to love everyone.  There are some 6 billion plus people on this earth and I am to love them all--God certainly does--even the one that ____________ (fill in the blank).  But rather than nit-pick further on the inaccuracy of what is basically a catchy phrase that makes a valid (I feel) point, I'll focus on what I take away from it.

I can look back at almost every year in my life and see a theme of what God was teaching me that year.  One year was being more kind, one year joy.  This past year was compassion and love.  Of course it is like the kids' math curriculum--we keep circling back to what we've already touched on while adding a new concept.  So this year I also worked on grace, kindness, and joy while growing in compassion which all link to loving better.  

Love is used all the time in so many different contexts.  It is one of Sunflower's newest words--and she uses it a lot.  Even though there are 73 episodes of Dora on Netflix we have to watch the one about saving the puppies over and over because "I love that one!"  A few days ago she said "I love falling!" when I wanted to know why she kept flinging herself backwards out of my lap.  She also loves Mommy, Daddy, the guys, and Captain Awesome.  I think she may love me more than a Dora episode, but I am not 100% positive.

As much as I love Sunflower telling me what and who she loves, this word means a lot more than personal preferences.  If God is love as the Bible says, how does that impact my behavior?  How does one love others as Christ loves?  This circles me back to Jonalyn's statement--love well.  Christ certainly loves well.

John 15:12-27
"My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command.   I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.  This is my command: Love each other."

Jesus loves well, and I so don't.

I Corinthians 13:1-3
"If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing."

I don't want anyone to think I believe I'm a completely selfish, heartless person (though at times I do behave that way; especially early in the morning).  Neither do I believe I can love well by sheer will power and self determination.  I need the transforming power of Christ in my life for change to occur.

So now that is clear, let me be completely real.  There are people in my life I would rather not have.  There are people whom I adore and with whom I could easily spend all my time.  Then there are people in the middle--I love them, but they take work or people who are easy to be around, but I don't have much invested in them.  So this phrase I understand--if you love well, you will love less people.  The pouring out your time and energy and making sacrifices in order to learn a person and love them for who they are rather than who you imagine them to be--that takes real emotional investment.  It is not possible to do this for every person in the world.

But I could easily use this phrase as an excuse.  Look at me--I'm invested in these 3, 8, even 20 people.  You cannot expect me to do more.  Christ only had 12 disciples and many theologians agree his inner circle only consisted of 3 men.

Whew!  I'm off the hook.  Christ has asked me to learn to love like Him this last year, and it turns out I'm already doing it.

No!  Yes, I do have some close friends, and I have been a slightly better friend to them this year (still growing).  I have a lot of family that consume a lot of my time and energy.  However, there are lots of people with whom I interact.  I need to grow in my love for them, also.  I need to love them well.

It doesn't mean the woman on the edge of my sphere that I see once or twice a week instantly becomes my best friend.  That isn't even the goal.  It means that when I do exchange hellos with her I do it with a warmer smile.  If she stops to talk I express sincere interest in what she is sharing.  Maybe our friendship will grow, but maybe not.  Maybe it is just about showing love through kindness in the brief moments.

Okay, maybe you already know that basic politeness is necessary to our society.  It isn't that I am purposely rude.  Often my smile cannot be warmer or my mind more focused.  It is about my heart.  I want my every action to be motivated by love with everyone I interact.   It is true that my ability to love well is limited by time along with my inherent selfishness.  I know people who pour out more of themselves and their time to others than they can afford.  I am not one of them.  

So as this last year was learning about compassion and how and who Jesus loves, it is time for the rubber to hit the road and for me to allow the Holy Spirit to enable me to do the same.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8:
"Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away."

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