'We love because He first loved us.'
Loving Christ can be vague. Sometimes a rush of nice warm fuzzy feelings convinces you that you're aglow with love, like the tangible flush of emotion when you emerge from a hug. Sometimes you feel so impossibly distant, as if you're staring at a static name on a piece of paper, trying to remember why it was once so important to you, trying to remember how it made you feel so much, wondering why nothing within you flickers when you read it anymore.
And we think confusedly, I need to love God more--but how? And we try confusedly to cultivate that warm fuzzy feeling. And we feel guilty when we fail, and we get discouraged, and we get disillusioned.
I am learning to see my love for Christ, not in the terms of how much I feel I love Him--which is how we tend to think about loving people--but how much I love other, lesser things more than Him.
I don't love Him more than I love my anger and bitterness, my sense of self-righteousness, my pride. I don't love Him more than my desire to hold grudges, to hurt those who hurt me. I don't love Him more than my desires for emotional fulfilment, for pleasure, for self-gratification, for security, for affirmation.
This sobers me and shows me, from a different angle, the major idols or obstacles in my spiritual growth, with a startling clarity that doesn't miss out or blur anything. Those things are more significant than I think they are. Some of them are truly good, yet keeping me from the Best; some of them shouldn't be there at all, as they are in direct opposition to Him. And yet I cling to them with a fierceness that surprises me, now that I compare it to the weakness with which I love You.
Do I really love You so little, when You have loved me so much?
We had been studying Margery Garbar's essays on Shakespeare's comedies, and one phrase in particular struck me from her analysis of Portia and Antonio from The Merchant of Venice. (Some background, for anyone who's not familiar--Portia is a witty, intelligent, beautiful and fabulously wealthy heiress beset by suitors; Antonio is a respected merchant prone to depression with few friends he really cares for--like basically, one. Who happens to be the lucky guy that wins Portia, by the way. There is also a gorgeous adaptation of the play starring Jeremy Irons and Al Pacino, but here I'm clearly getting sidetracked.) Garbar analyzed both characters as 'trapped in a death-like ennui of self-sufficient self', needing to commit to the risks of relationships.
I memorized this quote for writing essays, and thought it was interesting. I didn't expect it would resurface in my mind months after finals (and happily forgetting most of what I'd so painfully memorized) when I looked at my own life. Certainly not expecting it would come together, for me, with that quote of Elisabeth Eliot's about 'a life of unmitigated selfishness' (from Shadow of the Almighty) a quote which once meant so much to me; and even C.S Lewis in The Four Loves.
Now, I understand the cynical--I used to think, overly cynical--view of relationships as potential hurt. Caring for someone essentially means making yourself vulnerable. As C.S Lewis so poignantly and beautifully said, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
And that is what I am currently learning to accept, not to become embittered, not to withdraw. Like everyone, I am afraid of heartbreak, of loss, of suffering. I am afraid of getting hurt. Of people I love getting hurt. At the first breath of conflict my instinctive response is to retreat, to withdraw into myself, to pull my circle of relationships closer and tighter once more around myself. The bubble of self-sufficient self is attractive; it seems to promise us escape from the pain and conflict that come with human relationships. Something whispers to me that I cannot afford to love people--so much, or so many--because it will end up hurting me.
Yet something also whispers that Another loved, at the cost of ultimate hurt. Knowingly.
He embraced, not a few, but so many; embraced vulnerability in the giving of so much love, love which was still unrequited as yet.
Mark 10:21--'Jesus, looking at him, loved him.'
He knew all that was in that heart. He saw clearly the pride and complacency, the underlying streak of materialism, even as He saw the urge to live a pure and blameless life, the vague but urgent desire to know God.
Christ's love for the eager young ruler has always been what struck me most about this one incident in His life, as recorded in the book of Mark. Even at the very moment when the young ruler seemed to have failed the test, so to speak--at the very point he clearly demonstrated that his heart was given to idols.
Jesus did not push him to make a decision, guilt-trip or pressurise him. Jesus did not condemn him or fling up his hands in dramatic despair. He knew that this was much more than the physical, external act of getting him to sell all he had and give to the poor, even of following Him. This was a battle of the heart first and foremost, a heart which needed to be won and transformed and given willingly through love, not about impressive charity stunts and dramatic life turnarounds.
This love, I believe, was what enabled the young ruler to understand, and more importantly, accept when Jesus told him--gently--but poignantly, probingly--'One thing still you lack...'
John Freeman's wise words brought this part of the Bible to my mind:
When we reduce people to their sin or rebellion, we often react out of a deep motivation to set things right because our own sensibilities are affected.
If, like Jesus, we stop focusing on the sin in other people's lives which we want to see changed, rather than how as a person, as a soul, they need Christ, our response to them, no matter how well intentioned, will not end up being helpful. Judgy. Pushy. Condescending. Those adjectives are ones which Christians should pray that by God's grace they manage to avoid. If, like Jesus, we learn to love them, not because they fit our idea of what they should be like, or make the choices we think they should, even and especially when they don't, our attempt to help them and to share truth with them will not be pushed away or dismissed, even when they don't agree.
How do we love them?
Resisting the urge to add, 'Let me count the ways'--John Freeman also noted that In loving by listening, we learn much more about people and discover why they have sought after other gods.
Loving by listening is one of the simplest, yet most underestimated ways of showing love to someone, in our culture today where we're programmed to be visual, to be instant, to not waste a second, and most of all to proclaim and focus on our own opinions and feelings--as discussed here.
Too often, I make the same mistake. Unlike Christ, there are times when I look at someone and see only the sin in their life or the obstacle keeping them from grace, and forget to love them. I forget that as an imitator of Christ--who loved us first before He died for us--love comes first.
Sometimes, that means I need to listen patiently, humbly, to things I don't agree with, or things I think I already understand. Sometimes that means I need to just listen instead of thinking I have to always give advice or provide a different view. When we know their stories, when we understand what is important to them and what they believe can make them whole, and why, we see them with the same grace-filled love that looked out of Christ's eyes when He spoke to that young ruler.
a quiet voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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