Painting by: Melody Hogan, 2009
Within the soul of every human being is the desire to love and be loved. I'm not sure which is easier, to be loved by someone who truly loves you, or to extend yourself in loving others. There are complications with either one.
In the first case, being loved by someone who truly loves you, there is something very comforting about being loved unconditionally. You never doubt that person's motivation or whether or not you will be loved. It's always there, there's something steady and reassuring about it. The complication is - feeling secure in the idea that you deserve to be loved that much. Allowing yourself to doubt that for a second, adds a layer that is difficult to peel off. Remembering that even God loved us first, before we even knew who He was or what He had in store for us, gives a measure of peace in knowing that we are worthy of love. He created us to love us. We believe others are worthy, we tell them, we love them, we show them. At the same time, nothing should keep us from feeling that we deserve to be loved.
In the second case, extending yourself in loving others can be humbling, it can be rewarding, it can be very fulfilling and very satisfying. Our heart and soul wants to give love. Whether out of compassion or empathy, our hearts feel for others and sharing a moment reaffirming their place in the world gives them comfort and peace. The language that we choose to express love is truly an outward expression of what is going on inside. We can choose to give love by sharing words of love, by sharing a touch of love, or sharing an experience of love. Mothers want to give love to their children by a combination of all three. The complication is - at the same time it can be treacherous ground to walk on. Those that we so want to love may choose to reject us, they may refuse to open up and receive our love, or they may choose to be ungrateful for the loving things we do for them. It's difficult not to be affected by their response. It causes us to make decisions about whether to continue extending a portion of ourselves or investing emotionally in giving love. Relationships can really get complicated quickly. And, unless there is time spent repairing or reconciling, the love will never be exchanged in a way that benefits both.
Jesus said, "greater love has no one than this that he lay down his life for his friends."(John 15.13) Regardless of how others respond to love, our loving them is what is required. Putting our life aside, laying it down, in order to love others is really the greater expression of love. But our being able to do love at this level means that our hearts and soul are in a healthy place, feeling complete and nurtured by whatever sustains us. As the saying goes, you can't give what you don't have. So, the loving others and being loved go hand in hand. One cannot exist fully without the other.
In the painting above, if you can't see the detail, the person is standing in the middle of a field, arms open wide to the sky and little hearts are flowing out. With this posture comes a decision to feel the freedom to love, to share love, to give love. There aren't strings attached to the little hearts, there is no net trying to catch them and reel them back in. There is a free-flowing from the inside to the outside. I recently heard someone say that not that long ago, "Jesus came into my heart. And now, Jesus is knocking to come out." This person was preparing for a mission trip, and he was passionate about going and sharing the love that Jesus had put into his heart. Apparently, it was too much to contain and it became a driving force to find ways to share it with others. We don't have to go so far as a mission field, we can share with those right in our midst.
This being Valentines weekend, look for ways to share words, share a touch or share an experience of love with another person. It's not just for "lovers," it's for people who love...and that would be all of us. I have this painting hanging in my living room, along with two others by Melody Hogan, that remind Michael and I of the freedom in loving one another, remind us of God's fingerprints and how he brought us together to love and be loved, and how He gives us the capacity and the resources to go and share love with others abundantly. With this as our foundation, we will accomplish much, not only in loving each other, but in loving others. Love, love, love....there is nothing else.