“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. ” I Corinthians 13:4-8
In an earlier post, I said that I think when you love people you: don’t write them off, include them in the circle, see their potential, and want their highest good. A clumsy, unromantic definition, perhaps, but it includes four important elements that I would like to elaborate on.
I once heard someone I liked and respected say that another person was “worthless”. Honestly, it really shocked me, maybe because I had recently had a personal revelation about the inherent value of each individual. I didn’t say anything – we were in a crowded restaurant, and in this particular situation, I didn’t know how to respond without sounding self-righteous – but that remark really stuck with me.
Regardless of someone’s present behavior, I don’t think we can write them off as worthless or hopeless. That is like making them less than human. We never know how we ourselves would act if presented with the life circumstances of another person. More of the same kind of circumstances, whether abuse, continual put-downs or discouraging words, disappointment, or trauma, will not bring that person out of their condition. We don’t always know what preceded a life that now seems “worthless”, but we can be fairly certain that it wasn’t good.
Maybe we won’t be the one to befriend that person, and maybe it wouldn’t even be wise or safe, but we can open our hearts to them. We can smile, make eye contact (although this isn’t always a good idea), and just not close our hearts and shut them out. We can acknowledge them as a human being, a creation of God who needs love and understanding.
Including someone in the circle of life is similar to not writing them off. I like to think of every person in the world as part of a connected circle. Sure, there are many cultures, religions, ideologies, and personality types, but we are all people. It isn’t up to us to decide that someone doesn’t belong in that circle. Some people have done horrible things and need to face the consequences, but that doesn’t put them outside the circle of humanity. Including everyone isn’t as much about something we do as it is about something we think in our hearts.
Sometimes love is something we do. To show someone validation as a human being, we may need to physically care for them or teach them something about life and relationships. Asking hard questions and holding people accountable may be an integral part of the process.
This is not my strong suit, and there was a time when I didn’t do such a good job at it. Volunteering to help a young mother with five children (including twins) under the age of five several years ago, I jumped right in and quickly discovered that this woman did not know much about caring for children and keeping a home.
The huge demands of several small children would have been a challenge to the most experienced of mothers, and this inexperienced mother was exhausted and discouraged. Once I came to her apartment at 10:00 a.m. to take her two oldest children to story time at the library, and although four of the children were up, two crying with soaked diapers, I could not wake the mother. Every time I came one or two of the children would clamor to be held or hold onto my legs and not let go.
I held the children, changed diapers, and took the mother grocery shopping, among other things, but, because I didn’t teach her about the needs of children, how to get more help, and how to prioritize, I now feel like I let her down. She did have a social worker who came to the home, but these things either weren’t being addressed or this young woman was just too overwhelmed to learn.
One day I went to the apartment to discover that they didn’t live there anymore. Apparently, they packed up a few things and left in the middle of the night with the apartment in shambles, and moved to another state. I did love this family, and I did do something, but if I could do it over again, I would perhaps “love” in a way that better met their needs even if it meant saying some hard things.
I do not believe it was all for naught though. I gave what I could at the time, I learned something, and, hopefully, this young woman and her children felt love in our interactions. As a page in a children’s book that I have says; “May I so live the life of love this day that all those with whom I have anything to do may be as sure of love in the world as they are of the sunlight”.
What about seeing the potential in others? I have come to the conclusion that there is genius inside everyone – sometimes it is hidden under pain or insecurity, but it is there. Other times it is very easy to see.
I remember when my mother had cataract surgery a few years ago. The young female doctor came in to explain the surgery, and when she left the room I thought about how gifted she was and how fortunate my mom was to have her doing the surgery. She spoke and moved as if “in the flow”, naturally and almost effortlessly. Of course, a great deal of effort went into the years leading up to that moment, but she certainly seemed to be where she belonged.
I have had the same experience with restaurant workers who were so gifted at what they did that it elevated the dining experience and made it extraordinary. This can really happen anywhere where people have tapped into their gifts and are using them to bless other people.
I heard someone say that when you are looking at another person, you are looking at a gift. If we can appreciate that gift, even when we can’t see it, we are loving them, I think. This could even have the effect of uncovering their potential so they can see it themselves.
It really resonated with me when I first heard it said that loving someone was wanting their highest good. It also made it seem easier to love someone who has hurt me because their highest good doesn’t mean winning the lottery and having a problem-free life. It would have to mean somehow becoming a person of integrity (a whole person), and this would mean facing up to things they had said or done to hurt other people, even if it did not mean they could make it up to me personally.
The best for them would also mean they would become a person who loves, and this would affect me by making the world a better place. You simply cannot go wrong by wanting someone’s highest good, or by wanting your own, which is another way of saying loving yourself.
It is possible to live a life of love. It is possible to send out into the world what you want to receive back. It takes a desire, it takes practice, it takes letting go of some mixed-up, preconceived ideas about love, and it takes a commitment. Let go of old hurts, release yourself from the prison of unforgiveness, give up judging others to make yourself feel better, try to see underneath mean or hurtful behavior to see what is causing it.
I definitely do not succeed at this all the time. I still find myself complaining about people at times or enjoying “funny” sarcastic comments about others, but I am in the process of learning to love myself and others. It is one of the ways that we show that we love God, and the only way to achieve real change in the world.