Wednesday, February 15, 2017

for when you're learning about love part 3: we can't do it

"It is more difficult to love than to be confessional; it costs more to love than to be missional; and love calls for more humility and self-denial than piety."  ~Dr. Mike Ross

Last week, when sharing what Love really is, I spoke of the difficulty of truly showing love.  I hope you thought about it and I hope you experienced the hardness of it, not because misery loves company, but because experiencing something in a fuller and truer way does wonders for your ability to understand and transform knowledge in your head to wisdom in your heart.  And "from out of the heart your mouth speaks" Matt 15:18

Whether it is a lax in parenting, my cooking skills--which I always thought highly of before--, the knowledge that all children are different no matter how similarly raised, the predisposed condition of sin in our hearts, or a perfect storm of all of the above, we have been fighting some MAJOR food battles in our home.  All the preparation of our own hearts and his through planning and conversations in no way truly prepared any of us for the insanity of getting one child to take one bite of one thing that everyone else at the table finds perfectly acceptable and even delicious.

It took about a week to hone in on a method that my husband and I both felt was equally helpful and necessary to get the deed done at each meal where a different food tasting was required.  The process was still not enjoyable but at least there was a consensus among the grown ups.  However, it took well over a week for either of the supposedly intellectually superior humans in the house to understand the real problem. It was truly not a picky eater we were at war against, it was a stubborn and sinful heart that wanted nothing but its own way.

This came clear one evening when the precious face sitting at the table expressed rather passionately "I just don't like doing what I don't want to do!"

Bless his heart, mine, and everyone else's.  He nailed it.  There in the midst of his current turmoil, he spoke straight to the heart of each of ours.  We just do not like doing what we do not want to do. 

There are so many reasons our heart does not love, does not produce an inner disposition full of compassionate acts to build others up.  Never once will you hear me say that your reasons, whatever they might be, are not very real to you and therefore important in understanding your actions and your heart.  And if you do, please throw these next words straight back at me (in a loving way of course).

Our inability to love others, whether as a whole or a specific individual, stems from real life, below the surface struggles.  The actions and consequences produced may be completely visible above the surface, but there is an iceberg hiding underneath that can take down any size relationship no matter how seemingly unsinkable.

The lack of love can come from a lack of compassion and empathy, not being able to understand another's emotion.  It can come from a lack of forgiveness, a wall in your heart between you and another built through unforgiveness that love can not permeate.  The lack of real love felt in one's own life keeps you from being able to love another.  The saying "Hurt people hurt people" poetically wraps up the cycle of unloving prevalent in every relationship that has existed since the fall.

And in full disclosure, all honesty, transparency, and vulnerability, getting back to the lessons five year olds can teach you about what is going on in your own heart, love is often something we just don't want to do.

But no matter how hurt we may have been, no matter how justified we may feel in our unloving, no matter how much is below the surface, down deeper, beneath the places we have even thought to look, stands a Truth that goes far beyond not wanting to love.  It is the fact that we CAN'T love.

It his book Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, when talking about community, spends a good deal of time comparing humanity to spirituality and in that includes the ability and inability to love another.  He tells us that "human love is directed to the other person for his own sake.  It wants to gain, to capture by every means; it uses force. It desires to be irresistible, to rule."  Because of this "Human love cannot love an enemy...where it can no longer expect its desire to be fulfilled, there it stops short--namely, in the face of an enemy."

If I'm understanding his reasoning, than I have to assume when he uses the word enemy he is not referring, or just referring, to someone who has hurt you in a monumental way.  He is encompassing any and every person that keeps you from getting what you want at any specific moment.  On any given day your enemy could be those you love the most.

Of the millions of lessons learned from these past thirty five years of life, twelve years of marriage, and ten years of parenting it is that as much as I think I love my family and friends, as much as I think I would do anything for them at any moment, I on my own will never live up to my own expectations.  I will fail to love them in countless ways, every single day.  Sometimes its because I just don't want to love, I am loved out.  Sometimes its because I'm hurting, physically, mentally, spiritually, and hurt them in return.  Sometimes it's because of a lack of understanding of what they are truly feeling and going through.  Sometimes it's when I am giving them the very best of the love I have but have forgotten that my humanity can not truly do the job Love is required to do.  My very best is still the filthiest of rags.

BUT, "right here is the point where spiritual love begins..." ~Bonhoeffer

Up next, will be How we love and just in case you were wondering it starts with Jesus.  If you will forgive my rudimentary paraphrasing of Colossians 1, He is the beginning and the end of it all.  In Him alone do all the things in this crazy, beautiful, divinely created, full of sinful-hearted human world hold together.

Until then, do not despair because you cannot love, none of us can.  Do not give up because you have been hurt, we all have.  Do not fear because you are terrible at loving another, we all are.  Hold on to the Hope of the promises our Savior fulfilled.  Rest in the Peace he brings in the midst of your turmoil.  Rejoice with the Joy that he is above all circumstances.

I'll be praying for you,  pray for me.

Other posts from the Learning about Love series

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

for when you are learning about love part 2: what is love?

There have already been tears this morning.  Tears over inexperience, frustration, lack of understanding, risk of humiliation, fear of disappointing myself, others, someone.  Tears over venturing forth into a topic I have not and honestly will not, if lessons so far have been any indication, master. Why is there this need (desire, push) to try to tackle it?  Seriously people, this is hard as heck already!  Why in the Sam Hill am I doing this!?  --sorry my southern tends to elevate when emotions are, who is sam hill anyway?--

Surely there are classes about this somewhere, which are taught by much more qualified, educated, and theologically trained humans.  Am I just reinventing the wheel? Or more like remaking a much shoddier wheel that could bring the whole car down?  Lord Jesus, protect the passengers.

(I really wanted to say "Jesus take the wheel" right there, but the sarcasm might not have come through and instead it would feel like the cheesy factor had been pushed up to uncomfortable levels.)

Love is a huge topic. Love is something that could be written about daily and still never truly unpacked. Love is the reason "the word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14) because "God so LOVED the world..." (John 3:16). The massive quantity of verses, interpretations, the ways it fits into every single aspect of life is what starts the knots in my stomach. There's a meteor shower of thoughts in my head, which all have the potential to be beautiful if seen, but moving so fast it instead feels like a 360 degree fireworks show and you're not sure where to look.

So why write about Love?

The answers that come are, for one, because I am supposed to. I'm saying another scary yes on the road to obedience and faith where swerving will most certainly happen.

Two, because chances are, the majority of you are also feeling unqualified, uneducated, and untrained on this subject, and by sharing my struggles, it will encourage you to try to tackle yours as well.  Together, we are learning, taking on topics, and searching our souls to try and change our inner dispositions to be more like Christ, and walking alongside another in the midst of it makes all things better. 

Three, because there are just some subjects you can't take a class on, score a 100 on the test, and then move on to the next thing--I'm talking to you every geography map quiz I ever took.

Some information is so important you HAVE to seek, gather, put on lists or in bullet journals or note taking apps, or just let soak into your mind. By whatever means necessary for you, it must be done to become part of your being, mixed in with the knowledge already gleaned, and play itself out with the rest of the wisdom gained through practice and experience, failures and successes.

Yes, much more qualified people can explain it better and understand it better than me or you, but the question is, do we understand it, and if not, well, let's ask for guidance and go forward and try.

Tuesday is piano day on our family calendar. Two of my three boys are in lessons now, and while they both really enjoy lesson day, there is more than one occasion during the week when the reminder or command to practice causes less than acceptable responses. "It's hard", "I don't know how to play this one", "I don't know what these notes are", and a few others are the phrases whined to me while I stand in the kitchen trying not to grit my teeth or roll my eyes but to instead give the appropriate grown up response.

Whether it is Tuesday piano, math homework, or the numerous sports all the boys love, there is often a push back when time comes to begin practice. Doing the basics becomes boring. Repetition can crush your exuberant spirit with its monotony. In their little hearts (and in ours as well) there is a desire to just be good at something. We want to succeed, to excel even, but when we see the amount of work required to get to where we want to be there is either a pause to ponder, or even a decision to quit before we start, because the goal seems so far out of reach we doubt that it is even worth trying.

Funny thing is, that initial step is what keeps us from moving. Once we get going, once that practice begins, once our body starts to feel the familiarity of what it has learned and shows the signs of improving and of gaining skills, we see the goal getting closer, we see the need to keep going even when we continue to battle the desire to give up, and we look to see the hand of our Creator pulling us through, reminding us of His faithfulness, and calling us to just Trust and walk.

Basics come first, but they lead to big things.

So here we go. Small steps. First things first. When you are learning about love you need to know what love is.

Love is laden with misconceptions. It is forced to take on roles it was never intended to take on, required to fill gaps it isn't fit for, misinterpreted and pronounced nonexistent when really, it is right there ready and willing, trying to pour itself over the hurts and needs of people waiting for it. When love is waiting arms wide open for us to fall into, we reject it, misunderstand it, because it doesn't look the way we think it should look or act the way we want it to act.

When understanding and recognizing love, looking at it in a worldly sense will always skew its original design. There are many words the world uses in one way, but viewed through the lens of the Gospel take on a much different meaning. One such word is Joy.  In the world, we think of joy as happiness that comes from success or good fortune.  With a redeemed heart, we know joy can be found in the deepest sorrow, because joy is not circumstantial - it comes from being in Christ. 

Love is one of those such words.

In the world, 'love' is a greater level of 'like'. It is an 'amped up' feeling of fondness towards a person or an object. If you do not like something or someone, love will never be present. If you stop liking someone or something, love will cease to exist as well.

The best definition I have been given for love was from our former pastor during our hardest season of marriage, and it is one I will not attempt to re-word. Instead, I'll use it, with his blessing, and share it to as many people as I am able.  His definition radically changed the way I love, understand and respond to others, and inspired the title of this little space here on the interwebs where I can share with you.

Love, gospel driven-inspired by God LOVE, is an Inner Disposition that produces compassionate acts that builds up the object of your love.

Love, real and true love, starts inside yourself - your inner disposition - in your heart overtaken by the Spirit. If it doesn't start there, it is not love.

Love produces, not just anything, but it produces compassion. Not just thoughts of compassion, but acts of compassion. If you are not inspired and overwhelmed by the need to feel compassion for another, and to extend compassion to another, then you are not feeling and showing love.

Love builds up the one you are showing love to. To build is to put together, to develop and gradually form, slowly even. Love does not mean puffing someone up. (This is where things can get sticky).  Loving another does not mean telling them what they want to hear, just to make them feel better about whatever they are doing or what is happening. Truly loving is to build, to renovate, to take out parts that are not helpful, so that the parts that are can grow and climb closer to the sun.

Learning what love is will help us see it everywhere, in big ways and small, and will give us the confidence that it is always there to help us place it correctly in the spaces and ways it is intended to be and go.

Later down the road we'll tackle those times when even our best attempts at love will still cause hurt and rejection from another. But, for now, know that when love starts with a pure heart, when its desire is to show compassion, when its goal is to build up and not tear down, then LOVE will shine! Because in the end, it's God in you, not you, who is producing it.

When we understand that Love was not created by us, but put in us by our Creator, the knots in our stomach unravel. Our understanding of it is fine-tuned, and a huge amount of untrodden places are opened up to practice, show, and see love in its desired form.

Please pray for me, for yourselves, for others to truly understand Gospel driven love and the ability to pass it along to the ones around you. I'll be praying for you.

More in this learning to love series...