I often contemplate love. I know how important it is because it’s all over Scripture. It’s in every movie, and on the pages of every book. Somehow in a world that is unsure about this whole “God thing,” love prevails as an essential theme of the human race. Even when we are our culture forbids us to pray, talk about Jesus, or share the Gospel, it allows us to love.
So I recently read 1 Corinthians 13, which I have read a hundred times, heard at dozens of weddings, and practically have memorized. Paul talks about love being patient and kind and never failing. He writes about love being self-controlled, not keeping a record of wrong, and though faith and hope are important, love trumps even them. I started thinking about how I love and what it looks like for me.
I want so badly to love and be all that love encompasses. It’s a beautiful picture- to think of someone completely patient in their love and not self-serving. But as beautiful as the true picture of love is, I have found so much shame associated with this world’s idea of love. From Christians as well, I have felt shamed for not always thinking of others or for trying to care for myself. The word “selfish” is tossed around without so much as a care for what that word implies and silences the voices of those who have real needs.
My introversion has not helped in these situations. The messages from the church and Christian community are clear- “go, volunteer, do, meet, socialize, open your home, invite, talk, share.” Phew! I’m tired just writing that list. While I do believe sharing the Gospel, deepening relationships, and helping at church are Biblical and important aspects of the Christian faith, I just cannot do them all the time. For me to even try to love the way 1 Corinthians loves, I have to be alone for a time. I have to read and write and be with my own thoughts. I have get recharged in my own particular way; to settle myself in who I am in Jesus; to accept the unique and complicated person God made me to be. Then I can go out into the world.
This most important part of human interaction is often left out of Christian messages. The point is to “Go! Love! Don’t be self-serving!” Having boundaries is wrong and prohibits you from loving those in need. “Taking care of yourself,” is a new age, self-help mentality that gets in the way of doing God’s will. But I just do not think that’s true.
Jesus is a wonderful example of someone who knew how to take care of himself. He had the most difficult mission the world has ever known, so he had to know who he was, what he needed, and how to set boundaries. He was not preaching and teaching every second of the day. We know from Scripture that one of things he valued most was being alone with his Father. Mark 1:35, Mark 6:46, Luke 5:16, Luke 9:18 all depict Jesus withdrawing from the crowds and praying in complete solitude. In Luke 9:28, he takes his three best friends to pray with him, but excludes all the other disciples. Was he being unloving, selfish or cruel? Of course not! He embodied all of the 1 Corinthians attributes of love. How glorious was Jesus’ love as he rested in complete security of who he was in the Father!
In contrast, I have sat with many people who have gone the other way. They have stuffed their needs and not given much thought as to how to care for themselves. They have gone full steam ahead into servanthood while the burden of trauma, unmet emotional needs, and heart wrenching pain crushes them. They may suffer emotional or nervous breakdowns. They may turn to alcohol, substances, sex, food, relationships, money, self-mutilation, or gambling. The pain is too much and the only viable option is to numb, escape, and try to forget.
Now here’s where God is the only one who can truly help. He loved me in the midst of my most broken time. He called me His and put value on me when I felt none for myself. He sees me for who I really am- a broken wretch, but also a precious child. So not only do I have to know what I think about me, I have to know what God thinks about me. I have to stand secure in my identity in Christ and the person he made me to be. I have to be balanced and OK with who I am- failures and all. And now this beautiful love can really shine! Because of this security in Christ, I can truly love patiently, without holding a grudge, and with my whole heart.
Sure I can still love without being OK on the inside and often have to. Love is an action that needs to constantly be implemented, even when I do not have the feelings to go with it. But what if I could love like Jesus loved? What if I spent some time focusing on who I am, what I need, and my own personal narrative? What if I started to value myself the way God values me? 1 John 3: 19-23 says,
“By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.”
John says to learn about your heart. He says to have confidence in God, pray, keep his commandments, and believe in his Son. And then he says to love one another. John gives us a great deal of preparation before he tells us to love one another. He talks about our condition, our value, and our prayer life. What if you gave yourself permission to study and learn about the person God made you to be? And what if you used what you learned to better love and serve those around you? Shake off the shame and love!
From Michelle Hitchcock