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Monday, October 17, 2016

Loving From Within

 One of the first issues that God led me to was the issue of love. Now that my eyes were beginning to be opened to the magnitude of God's love for a broken, needly individual like me, it started to become apparent that one of my problems in the past was a false understanding of love - how to receive it and how to give it back. For a long time, I kept myself at a distance from love. Because I was afraid people would judge me if they discovered the truth behind the person I was portraying myself to be, I didn't want to get close to others or allow them to get close to me. Even if they told me they loved me, I often didn't believe them. The door to my heart was keeping the bad in and the good out, although I didn't understand that at the time. My inability to receive love prevented me from experiencing the full and joyful life - for myself and for others. As a result, it also was impossible for me to truly appreciate people for who they were and to reach out to them properly. My love of self was the only way I viewed life.
 Now, I was being presented with a different picture. I was being shown an overwhelming love that was found in the affection of my Savior. All became clear as I realized that love has its roots in the spiritual: that love stems from God. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me as though the people in my life had tried to show me such unconditional favor, but I had resisted it, time and time again. I had pushed away all sources of this life-giving love, thinking that somehow, I could self-generate this goodness on my own. 
 1 John 4:7 says that "love comes from God."

"Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
...Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another."

God's love flows from Him to us. We complete the cycle when we pass it one. Love is not meant to be self-serving. We experience the true power of it when we give it away and attempt to embrace others in the same way we have been undeservingly embraced by Christ. "We love because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19). Love is not a one-way street. It isn't intended to be for our own agenda. Love is patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not proud, not self-seeking, or angry. Love does not keep a list of wrongs or delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Love always protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres. Love never fails (1 Cor. 13:4-7). Christ demonstrated this for us in His death on the cross and continues to do so toward us, whether we receive it or not. 
 Since I grew up around an incredibly loving family and circle of friends, it was an obvious correction on my part. I had to adjust the way in which I perceived the love of others. I was the one with the skewed vision, not them. I had to change my attitude toward them and learn to not call their intentions into question every time. I had to learn to trust, to be open. To take their freely offered love as a human example of God's love for me. And this made me want to return that love and pass it on. I was awakening to the deep importance of the fact that I had built a wall of separation between me and others - a wall that had to be torn down if I was to fully know love.
 I realize, however, that, unlike me, there are many people in the world who have not been blessed with others around them who truly love them. For them, life is about more than just becoming aware of that love and responding to it - it is about overcoming a failure in love. Sadly, rejection, abandonment, disapproval, or the senseless heaping of guilt and blame has formed resentment within the receiver, and they are, consequently, unable to properly relate to those around them. The pain of being unloved brings on all kinds of feelings of badness - feelings that only true love can erase. For obvious reasons, people in this kind of situation have pulled up the drawbridges of their heart like the ancient castles of old. Nobody in, nobody out. By choosing to go behind the door, this disconnect has made for a very miserable existence. 
 We must understand that, anytime we engage in human relationships, there is the potential for people to inflict pain on one another, intentionally or not. It is especially vital that we bear in mind the fact that hurting human beings tend to hurt other human beings. Thus, it becomes hard sometimes for us to experience or offer love to others as a result of this. When we have felt a failure in  love, it is easy to withdraw and isolate ourselves, to determine that we will never love or be loved again.
 And yet, while we can't control what others do toward us, we can control how we respond. We can resolve, in spite of our pain, to keep the door open and continue to love. In addition, we can seek out the people in our lives who truly care, who truly demonstrate love, and are waiting for an opportunity to reach out to us and touch the aching wounds in our soul. Ultimately, we should embrace the arms of our loving Savior and plunge into the depths of His healing grace. When our heart has been warmed by such Divine charity, we no longer feel the need to keep the love of others away. Once we have tasted unconditional love, relationships, human or Divine, begin to make sense. We regain the courage to allow ourselves to be open to God and those around us. 
 It is so crucial that we ask ourselves this question as we start to journey toward the Light: in an effort to protect myself from further pain, am I holding the bad in and keeping the good out? 
 We learn to love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19) and therefore, those who love God, in return, also love other people (1 John 4:21). Love is a foundational component in our escape from the darkness. Love is what makes a life.