Over the past couple of years there has been a shifting taking place in my life. My church is in a season of transition. Our pastor, with longevity of service, retired a little over a year ago. Now we have an interim pastor. Soon we will be ready to call a new pastor. I am in the thick of it as a member of our church Transition Team whose purpose is to represent the church members while we prepare for a new pastor. It is quite a process; we wade through past, present, and future structures; actions, problems, and solutions; and accountability cross-hairs. When a pastor leaves, people are all over the place. Some people are sad and others are glad; some are mad, others are conflicted or confused. A few are greatly impacted. They feel abandoned. He was their spiritual father, and they loved him and depended on his counsel and care. Grief and loss is their experience. Pastoral change is not devoid of emotion. For me, I was in the conflicted group. I also felt a deep sadness, a form of grief that settled in. This period has been personally challenging in subtle and not so subtle ways.
Our “transition” pastor is part of Interim Pastor Ministries, an organization which comes alongside a church that is in the middle of a pastoral transition. IPM pastors give fresh insight and a wealth of knowledge combined with constructive guidance. As a group, we look at materials and structures, read and talk about the development of a healthy church body. Boy, have I learned a lot. We pray about all of it; past, present, and future; we pray on a personal level, in small groups, and as a corporate entity. We have pulled together. There is a side benefit found within all of this; our love for each other, in the church as a whole, is growing and blossoming.
I am more convinced than ever that love is the key to everything; on a personal, interpersonal, and corporate level (and even national and international). We won’t get far without love.
I am reading the book Befriending Silence by Carl McColman, a lay Cistercian. He makes the assertion that loving is the giving of self to others by way of something he terms, self-gift. The desired state of the Christian walk is to love first and always, then the rest will take care of itself. For if we love well and if we love because of Christ’s love and the spiritual love the God-head has bestowed upon us, we will love without reservation and without an expectation that it will be returned in kind. We love simply because we love. It is in us to do so, and to do so unreservedly.
But there seem to be few who love in this way.
Why is it so difficult to love?
The answer is found in what seems to be sort of a riddle. We can’t love easily or well until we have been loved easily and well. We can’t give love until we have received love. One simply cannot give what one lacks. Those whom have never been loved or loved well will find it difficult or nearly impossible to love others with freedom and abandon. Some people protect self and keep “self” maintained out of necessity, so much so that they have a hard time with loving others or even loving God. There are reasons for this.
Rejection or abuse, neglect or disregard, lack of confidence and validation, has influenced their self-perception and self-aware behaviors. What seems like love may, in actuality, be a form of emotional manipulation, giving to get–in order to get our own needs met, not giving because I “will” myself to give–with no thought of it being returned in kind. I assume codependency is rooted in the absolute human need to be “loved” and “wanted,” to the point that the relationship becomes unhealthy in its structure. The other person becomes the security and reason for living instead of God becoming the security and reason for living.
My former pastor often said that each of us has a love tank. Our love tank needs to be replenished and filled. If our love tank is empty or close to it then we’re in big trouble. Within this human need for love, comes a responsibility to our important ” others.” Our interpersonal relationships depend on love. We will help fill our mate’s love tank by the way we speak to him/her. Our children, too, need to have their love tanks replenished and filled. There are many ways to do this. . . . thoughtful deeds we do for them and intentional acts that say, I care about you because you matter to me. During the hard times, this is especially critical.
Love, which is freely given and not based on merit, performance or equality of action, is the real deal. So often we attach love to performance, if you love me you will do this for me, which puts a condition on the love whereby making unconditional love seem almost nonexistent. A side note, Christian parents often bind their older children to themselves instead of giving them wings. The parent’s own identity and personal need (and reputation) creates a “condition” in the parent-to-child relationship. This structure restricts their older or grown child by disallowing him or her to become their own person, and it has a hint of manipulation at the source. Speaking from experience, it is hard to let go because there are the unvoiced, familial and spiritual, considerations and expectations. Even church leaders do this with their constituents. They put conditions, heightened expectations and performance-outcomes as superior to unfiltered, unconditional love, care and acceptance. (Trust is in a different category)
I believe most of us have some degree of difficulty with love and loving well, at least in its pure form. However, most of us have the good fortune of being loved by someone important to us. Not all are so fortunate. What is it then that I am trying to say? If we can’t give love because we don’t have much love to give, then that’s a huge problem for the Christian who wants to love and to be “love” to others but who doesn’t know how to communicate love and hasn’t developed much capacity for love as of yet.
Although we may try, we can not manufacture true love, we can only produce a form of pseudo-love. It is close but not quite the real deal. If the desire to know love is there, then that is where the change will begin. In addition, salvation in itself is alive with love. Salvation is the beginning of a loving, spiritual, soul’s awakening. Since we know love originates in a heart that has love, we must first experience the essence of love, then we can let it grow and spread as we love God, others, and life.
What can we do to experience love and to learn how to love?
The answer to this question is found in the hidden places. It is not found on the surface. We can say that we love God, the words roll off the tongue. But those same words often betray us. Love is not a blanket mentality used to cover the issue. Real, true love springs out from a heart full of love. It is irresistible and unquenchable. It never sees people as projects or problems, and it loves because it must love; it is love’s nature to replicate itself.
This kind of love comes from a deep well within the soul. Like a spring that flows from a crack in the earth’s surface, love springs forth in unlimited abandon and with refreshing goodness. There is a pursuit of God which takes us to a “knowing” place. Here we find the peace of God as we find ourselves securely wrapped within His warmth and love.
We must be in-tune with God if we want to know Him in the form of meaningful and close relation.
The more we seek to know God in a personal way, the more He will reveal Himself to us. Because God is love, the more we know Him, the more love we will experience. It works that way. The love of God is revealed all around us. It is in the little things like a delicate petal, the smile of a small child, the word that speaks to the soul. As we embrace God and seek to open our hearts to Him, we will discover that a root of love has sprouted, then bloomed, and is now growing fruit inside our spiritual beings. The process is both painful and sweet.
There are many spiritual disciplines which encourage the seed of love to grow. Here are four:
- Read God’s holy Word. The text found in the Bible, God’s Word, will nurture a love of God. When we read scripture, it is best to take the time to absorb its teachings and to center our thoughts in its truths. One practical practice is to ask God to speak to us while we are reading His word. It helps to underline or make notations as a way to highlight meaningful phrases that cause in us spiritual reflection. Be intentional and be aware, apply and internalize. Because God is love, His love will minister to a need you might not realize you have. We were made for God. That is why His words speak to our souls.
- Pray orally, pray silently, pray actively. Praying scripted prayers from a prayer book or the Psalms, praying our own personal prayers, and listening in the stillness are all meaningful in practice. Prayer enhances spiritual life and brings about worship of God in the beauty of His holiness. Prayer in this way also develops a communication between the Creator and His created. We are the children of God. This is a privileged position. We are also joint heirs with Christ. Our standing with God is remarkable for we are His adopted children. Our relationship with the divine is formed within a context of great humility. We have standing with God because Christ came to earth in human form to die a very human death for a highly spiritual purpose–to take away the sins of the world and to restore us to full relationship.
- Consider and meditate on the truths of God. There is much to be gained when we slow ourselves from being over-busy and take the time to develop a hunger and thirst for God and His righteousness. Cluttered time is the enemy of spiritual reflection. Much is written about meditation, reflection, and contemplation. This is because there is great value to be gained through careful and intense consideration of God and His truth. A phrase or a full verse can give rapturous delight when our senses and thoughts delve deep into absorbing its graces. This is life-changing goodness to our souls. It has the power to transform a mediocre spiritual life into one that is radiant and life-renewing. At its apex, we find love. Love percolates in these quiet, set-apart times, when we listen for God and sense His divine awesomeness.
- Outworking of the spiritual life is motivated by loving and giving (self-gift). Once love becomes part of who we are, then it begins to speak. It must speak. This kind of love cannot be held back or tamped down. The love of God is openly shared, and it is bold. Missionaries are on a mission to share the gift of salvation with everyone they can. In a sense, we all are missionaries. We are commissioned to share the grace and love of God to the world within our little sphere of influence. Love may be found in a verbal expression, it may be given through kindness and generosity, and it may be present in helpfulness, acceptance and caring. Words need not be spoken for love to be present. The love of God flows from us on a daily basis. Our own children and parents, garden plants and animal friends, benefit from the presence of loving-kindness, once God’s children have received and embraced His love. It shows.
We are a blessed people. God’s Word says, they will know us by our love. And that is how it should be.