Wednesday, March 29, 2017

for when you are learning to love part 6: loving them all

You were hardwired for love, so everything you decide, desire, think, say, and do is an expression of love for someone or something. ~ Paul David Tripp, New Morning Mercies

One more thing on this love learning menu.  Then after, instead of just adding more to the list, it will be time to practice those same things over and over until they become specialties walked out only by Grace given and the growth that inevitably comes from the many failures and eventual successes on the wisdom road.

We spent a week in Romania sharing this verse, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it:  You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Matt 22:37-39), and a somewhat comical portrayal of the Good Samaritan to children and adults in which our good friend was jumped by my husband and another guy, 'beaten' up, and left writhing on the ground complaining and whining in English with a couple Romanian phrases thrown in for good measure.  Stressing that everyone is your neighbor was the point of the story.  Everyone is your neighbor.  Not just the ones you like.  Not just the ones you who were nice to you first.  Not just the ones who can scratch your back if you scratch theirs.  

To me, it seems as if this final lesson of love is the most difficult because its the one that costs us the most.  Before now everything has been head knowledge.  Learning that we need to love, learning what love is, learning what love is not, learning that we can't love on our own, learning where that love comes from, can all be done internally, alone, without truly feeling the cost of what it takes to set yourself aside and extend that love we have so graciously been given to another, any other, every other.  But that is exactly who we are asked to love, everyone.

This is all well and good on paper until the time comes to put it into action.  

In ninth grade I took Geometry.  This was one of those classes that could turn the best of math students into the worst and vice versa.  it was a completely different concept that you either got or you didn't.  For whatever reason I got it, pretty well, and one thing that has stayed with me from that class more than any other were proofs.  As much as I liked geometry, I HATED proofs.  How was it that I needed to write 15 sentences to tell you the answer that I already knew.  Well if this then this, and if this then this, and so on and so on.  Little did I know at the time that that concept would guide my spiritual heart more than anything else.

We are given this Truth that we are loved, when we are His child we are loved unconditionally with Hope eternal.  And if that, then...  From that one point we can be taken to a future of loving, one step at a time.

Preparing your mind for action (1 Peter 1:13) is an absolute necessity.  Studying, memorizing, readying yourself is an integral part, but only if when the time comes you "walk by the spirit, and not gratify the desires of the flesh."  God is going to call you to love people you want to love, people who fill you with joy and hope, pleasure and purpose, and when this happens your heart will burst with the sweet Spirit inside and surrendering yourself to it will be one of the easiest decisions you can make.  

However, in just as many instances, God will present you with people to love in that same whole-hearted, spirit surrendering way and every part of your being might feel nothing but the opposite of a loving desire.   In fact, instead of walking by the spirit and not gratifying the desires of your flesh,  your flesh will boil and fight and inside yourself you will physically feel these two forces completely opposed to one another, keeping you from doing the things you want to do or, maybe more truthfully, allowing you to do exactly what you might want to do, nothing.

Let's be honest.  There are countless times you don't really want to love the people you love so why on earth would we want to love the people we don't love.  There is no earthly reason why we should love another if we do not want to, but there is a very heavenly one that tells us why we need to.  "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this ALL people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)

It's HARD, when it gets personal.  When you can list reason after reason of the why you should nots, the justified examples that can be spilled out and pointed at, but if the given in our loving proof is that we are loved then eventually, following that beginning, no matter how many sentences follow, we can reach the end with a loving heart for another.  When we remember that we aren't worthy of the love we have been given, why should we expect another to earn our love in return.

In his daily devotional New Morning Mercies, Paul David Tripp says this,  "You are a lover; we all are.  We love.  It's what human beings do every moment of every day, in every location, and in every situation.  You are never not loving.  It's in the very fiber of your being.  It's the way God carefully constructed you.  Why did he hardwire you to love?  Why is this such an essential part of who you are?  God created you with this capacity so that you would have what you need to live in a deeply loving, heart-controlling, motivation-producing, worship-initiating, joy-stimulating relationship with him.  Your capacity to love was created for him.  Your desire to love was meant to draw you to him.  Your heart was designed to long for love, and that longing was meant to find its final and complete fulfillment in him." 

We are all hardwired for love, the question will come down to how it manifests itself.  Does it come out in a love of self, in being right, in wanting personal comfort, satisfaction, retribution?  Or will it come out in an inner disposition that builds others up and inevitably points them to Jesus because it's His love in us they see.

I pray that others will see God through our love, and I pray much more needfully, that He help us love others because we know how much He loves us.  Pray for me, I'll be praying for you.

For more in this learning to love series...

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

for when you are learning to love: questions to ask

It's Spring.  Where life's changes are seen as much in our schedule as they are in nature.  There are two baseball practices on the schedule tonight which means dinner needs to be ready early which means I cannot do my usual afternoon class at the gym which means I 'needed' to go to the gym in the morning which means writing is happening during rest time which means that any other productive things that needed to be done had to happen first thing this morning which means after all the kids are in bed tonight a bathtub full of bubbles and epsom salt will be calling my name.

Basically from before first light until long after the light fades this evening the day's to dos have wound themselves into a weird and complex reverse version of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie except that there will not actually be any delicious chocolate chip yumminess as a reward.  Or maybe...

This journey from the past weeks of learning to love started as a yes to a command but has continued with many other types of YESes as understanding has continued to grow and places in my heart either with known hardness or unknown places to begin with have opened and felt that warmth of our loving Father preparing it to love in return.

There are many ways that reduce you to a place of humility.  One is to take the time to truly search and study a specific part of your life and begin to see, as you go on, how much was unknown and misunderstood; how much mystery there was in the midst of all the knowledge.

However, there are many ways to build up thankfulness within your heart.  One is to take the time to truly search and study part of your life and see how faithful God is to reach down to exactly where you are, in all your mysterious misunderstandings, and grow and change and lift your knowledge to a place closer to wisdom.

Because of this brief time squeezed in between preschool and elementary school pickups, with Narnia and a 5 year old's commentary as my soundtrack, instead of finishing up these weeks of love learning there will instead be a few questions to ponder before the finale next time around.  Using your words to ask the right questions is a vital step to developing the wisdom we long to have.  Until you know the questions to ask, you might never know if you have found the answer.

Part 1.  We began with just the first step of wanting to love, wanting to learn to love better knowing that "wisdom does not come when life works out perfectly, it comes when you fall but when you get up and try again."  Have you tried during these past weeks and failed?  Lord knows I have.   What situation(s) did you recognize a need to love better or to even let love In to it to begin with?

Part 2.  Defining love was an integral part of this journey.  Love, is an inner disposition that produces compassionate acts that builds up the object of your love.  Constant reflection on this definition has no choice but to begin to change your heart and open it up to not just recognizing compassionate acts but building a desire to produce them within the lives of others.  Have your compassionate acts towards others change and how can they still change and improve?  Write down those ways that you can see that changing in your heart, the ways compassionate acts of have achieved the building up of others.  When you see the way God has achieved that in your so far it will be a blessed encouragement when you also recognize those places where growth still needs to come.

Part 3. Learning the truth that we can't love might be difficult to take but in time makes this whole process so much easier. Have you embraced this truth? Do you know that you, on your own. do not have the capacity to love?

Part 4. We are able to love for one single reason, we were loved first (john 4:19)  It's not us, ever. It's all Him in us.  Knowing this, when a failure at loving occur there is no doubt it had it's roots in not trusting Jesus and trying to love on our own but how specifically is the right question.  In what ways and with whom are you trying to love on your own instead of letting Jesus love through you?

Part 5. ...the beauty revealed through everything covered in Christ is beauty unsurpassed. It is possible to not just live through difficult situations but to LOVE through them as well. Using the encouraging words from Isaiah 7:4 we learned to 1. be calm 2. be careful 3. do not fear and 4. do not let your heart grow weary. Unfortunately in this sinful world in which we live, difficult situations, of all scheme and scope, are inevitable and much more frequent than we would like. What situations are taking their toll on you right now? Recognize them, label them, and lay them down to the one who will not just love you through them but will enable you to love through them as well.

I'm praying for you as you reflect on these past few weeks lessons and, like in the Spring, you see the beautiful changes already made and the ways He will be faithful to bring about more. Pray for me.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

for when you are learning about love part 5: difficult situations

One of my greatest skills is creating beauty in my mind, deciding what would look the best in any given place or within any opportunity. Whether that is the deck and landscaping around our newly surfaced--and filled with water!--pool, decorating projects for friends, or carefree afternoons at homes, there is always an ideal in my head of how life, both the living of it and the visual around it, would look best.

On the flip side, one of my greatest triggers of frustration is when these lovely, perfectly imagined ideals do not play out properly. For anyone actually living in this world, it can easily be assumed how often the ideal does not occur. If things worked out perfectly was a question on a survey the answer circle would most definitely be the "not very likely" choice listed on the far left!

Even in this, my writing life, a weekly ideal attempts to create itself within the corners of my mind painting pictures of the quiet space, perfectly sweetened, creamed, and heated tea, the best music plugged into my ears, and the words swirling around captured and placed in the right order for maximum effect. And when, like last week, my writing Wednesdays are filled instead with the care taking of feverish boys and the never ending tasks of housekeeping that goes along with it, that temptation to succumb to frustration of a destroyed ideal begins to overtake the joy and thankfulness of my first job in loving the sweet ones God gave me.

Perfecting ideals can have their place. Planning, organizing, and imagining how to create beauty and give beauty to others is not just a responsibility as a steward of this world, it is loving as well, as long as perfection isn't the circumstance on which your loving acts are resting.

The perfect ideal you have conjured up inside can not mask over the reality that plays out.

We want an experience that is easy and euphoric but instead we are, through abundant Grace, given distractions, failures and frustrations that instead of breeding immediate love produce an increase in our unloving parts. Why? Because within the difficulties the hardness in our hearts is revealed, the deepest places of unloving are brought to the surface, and only then does light shine upon them and enable real love to grow.

A quote from C.S. Lewis that holds both number one spots on my favorite and least favorite lists is this, "We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be." My favorite because its true. My least favorite, well for the exact same reason. We like the best for us, but we do not like pain.

Some of the first words written in the journal that began after my husband's heart shattering confession a few years ago were based on James 1:2-4 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its word so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.

Written somewhat angrily in black and white was this, "After reading that, I wanted to punch James in the face. Seriously. I literally wanted to take James, brother of Jesus my savior and punch him in the face as hard as I could..." Violent? Maybe. True feelings? Absolutely. But then out of the most difficult of situations God taught me to cling to Him through anything, how to cling to His promises, and see the Love I have been given, the same Love He is continually teaching me to give to others. All others. He desires us to lack nothing. We can not lack nothing until we have been stripped of everything that is not of Him. (to read more of our story and God's amazing grace through it go here)

Learning to love with that gospel centered love is what is best for us, the sometimes painful mining of your heart and soul through difficult things is an inevitable part of that best being formed in you.

But do not lose heart, have courage, we are not left alone ever, and especially not during the hardest and darkest parts of our growth. Difficult situations come in all forms and on all levels. They will not all be earth shattering. They will not all require years of healing and continuous asking for and extending of forgiveness. Some will last only moments, but within each is the gift of grace and lessons of love that truly change our inner dispositions to those more like our Savior's and expands our ability to change towards others as well.

Weeks ago, while reading, I came across a verse in the midst of the needed but terrifying warnings of Isaiah that gave me such encouragement that it was jotted down immediately as something to share in the future. However hesitancy to do so increased as I began to fear that my lack of theological prowess and understanding of context would cause harm instead of the good intended. However with "His majesty as my protection, His glory as my motivation, His grace as my help, and His wisdom as my direction"--thank you Tripp again for your words--today is the day.

Whether in the throes of a difficult time of life, years out from one where healing might still need to be achieved, or in preparation for an inevitable one to come, take these words with you. Be careful, keep calm and don't be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these [whatever specifics are causing the hardness] Isaiah 7:4

Be Careful. However loved and protected we are, there is evil out there that definitely wants to destroy any chance we have of knowing, abiding in, and loving like Christ. Look carefully how you walk, not as unwise but as wise (Eph. 5:15), Do not believe every spirit, test to see if it is God (1 John 4:1), walk by His spirit (Gal 5:16)

Keep Calm. Ya'll I'm the queen of flip out first, think later. The times I've had to apologize to my children, husband, God, friends, strangers, and myself for losing my composure before thinking things through is a number higher than I even want to attempt to count to. But He gives us peace, not peace like the world, but perfect peace so that our hearts do not have to be troubled (John 14:27) and promises that He will walk through the raging water and consuming fire with us (Isaiah 43:2)

Do not fear. Flipping out has its roots in fear and we know that Perfect Love casts that fear out. (1 John 4:18) He did not give us a spirit of fear. He gave us power, self control, and LOVE (2 Tim. 1:7)

Do not let your heart grow faint.  Friends, repeat this one often.  Situations will come that you will face head on, Truths all risen up in your heart, prepared for the painfully hard that exposes the incomparable Good.  But then, there will be those times that you feel as if you have no strength, you know the hard that is on the path to healing and you just do not want to do it.  Take heart, have courage.  This can not be done alone.  Remember we love only because He loves first.  His love fuels, fills, and overrides.  Your heart WILL grow faint otherwise the command to not let it wouldn't be necessary.  Let Him love first so that you can love next.  

However beautiful the schemes in my head, the beauty revealed through everything covered in Christ is beauty unsurpassed.

Praying for you to learn to love not just through all your difficult places but because of them.  Pray for me.

More in the learning to love series...

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

for when you are learning about love part 4: Him first

The house we have called home for almost two years now sits on a corner and is surrounded by yard, yards in fact, full of trees to climb and hide under, grass for running and rolling, stone walls for jumping and upping the coolness of sword fighting and the occasional pretty flower that I haven't yet accidentally killed, but have no worry there is still time for that.

Three boys spend many hours using the space for exactly why it was created, to live and move and have their being.  Somewhere amidst the middle of disagreements, one on one on one basketball games, and too many ninja/knight/star wars battles to count an appreciation is being built for the beauty of the outside world while inside their hearts, the groundwork that can continually connect that love they have for creation for the love the Creator has for them is being laid and cultivated.

Surrounded by a fence, the only area blocked for every day play, lies a most favored part of the outdoor adventure space, our pool.  As soon as weather and water are warm enough gates are unlocked-with adult supervision of course- to this space where everything from relaxation to intense competition takes place.  However, if you were to walk out today and take a glance at this treasured spot, you would fail to see the inviting blue sparkly water begging you to put your toes in.  You would also fail to see the somewhat green-tinged not as inviting water that tends to spring up in the off season.  Instead, before you lies an empty cement hole, banged up a good bit, missing integral pieces, most importantly water, that makes a pool serve it's designed purpose.  Sure standing at the bottom of an empty deep-end is a semi cool experience and having a sword fight there did make a 5 and 7 year old boy giggle with glee but that fun is most assuredly short lived when you know what the full potential of the space feels like.

Without the essential element that fills it up, a pool is simply a hole in the ground; likewise without the love given through the Perfect Love, a heart is simply a lump of muscle pumping blood to keep your body alive but doing nothing for the Spirit within.  Both items are needed, but until they are filled to overflowing with that one key ingredient they will continually cease to perform their designed purpose.

While walking down this bumpy road of learning about love, we recognized the need to actually love better or at all, we have discussed what love truly is, and that we are not at all capable of doing it but hopefully you remembered, "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."

So then, how is possible? How do we go about loving another?  How in the midst of our massive inability are we able to do anything?  Like all things we fail at doing, when we dig and dig to the root where we will find waiting the same Truth, the same wondrous reason for how "we can do all things" (phil 4:13)

We are able to love for one single reason, we were loved first (john 4:19)  

A simple statement that holds the heaviest of weight.  However quickly spoken, it is a thought and truth that can be unpacked and put away into every nook and cranny of your life each and every day.

Jesus is the beginning of it all; the beginning of our ability to see that we need to love, how we understand what love truly is, and the reason we can't, no matter how hard we try, love another on our own.

Because we are loved, we see the need to love.
Because we are loved, we understand what True love is.
Because we are loved, we can love, not on our own, but with the love given to us.

In Life Together, Bonhoeffer continues his look at human and spiritual love by saying "spiritual love comes from Jesus, it serves Him is bound solely to his Word...because spiritual love does not desire but rather serves, it loves an enemy as a brother" and if you remember, on any day, your enemy can even
be who you believe you love the most.

If ever I am given the honor of writing a book or multiples at that, one will be about this tricky topic of loving others.  It's title, already jotted down in one of my notebooks is "It's not me, It's You: loving because Jesus loves first" 

It's all Him guys, but He openly and lovingly gives it to us to then give away, amen and hallelujah.

Jesus is that Perfect Love, the water to your swimming pool, that essential ingredient to the heart, and we are told that Perfect Love casts out any fear. (1 john 4:18)  Yes, you may make a list of all your fears-if you want to see mine here it is-and see how that Perfect Love takes those fears away, lets you see the truth behind them, and ultimately just reminds you of who is holding you throughout everything.  Because of that, Do not fear.

Another thing fear does is keeps us from loving others because we fear the rejection of not being loved in return.  As that Perfect Love fills all your spaces it pushes those fears out and allows us to love others because we aren't looking for something in return.  If we are filled to overflowing with His love it's not the love of others that matters, but His and His alone.

In one of the most common passages about love we learn that love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, 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 trust, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails. (1 cor. 13:4-8)

And if God is Love, then this is a description of His character towards us, His children, as well as an example of the Love we are capable of only because of Christ's Perfect Love in us.  Will we fail, yes.  Will His Love fail us, never.

However, the first four verses before those oh so familiar ones are not to be ignored.  Within them are wise words reminding us of what happens when we try to go forth on our own, love on our own, without Love within us.

Two years ago on our second trip to RO we studied these words in depth and were given the task to reword them, making them specific to our struggles, to our personality, to what our imperfect love could result it if not overwhelmed with the only Perfect Love.  I'd love for you to try it and share your results.  For me it looked something like this...

If I speak with kind words and encouragements but do not have love I am at best morally superior and at worst an annoying goody goody or hypocrite.
If I show empathy and understanding to a situation and give great advice believing all will get better but do not have love I am of no help or significance to another.
If I sacrifice my money and time for my children, friends, and strangers but do not have love I might as well have given them nothing.
Love is patient and kind, it doesn't show off and point at itself on instagram or facebook.  It does not assume its way is better or get mad when things do not work out perfectly.  Love does not enjoy when others fail but gives praise for the glory of God in everyone's life.
Love takes it all in, the good, bad and ugly, it believes in Truth and clings to Hope knowing whatever comes that love will never fail.

Our pool guy told me not to look outside until all the work was done because it would be a mess, it would not be pretty behold but all I could think was if I miss the mess in the middle, the ugly parts, the not so pretty in the midst of restoration, how can I fully appreciate the beauty of the end result?

Though that Perfect Love is indeed living in you, this loving thing still might look like a big ol' mess to you before it ever looks anywhere close to good, but without seeing your beginning and middle you can not fully appreciate the end God has already begun to reveal and will fully complete as promised.

I'm praying you will see His love first so that His is what you give away, pray for me.

For other posts in the learning to love series...