According to the Bible, being a loving individual is a necessary condition for spiritual growth and unity with God. Growth towards true holiness involves much work and commitment. The performance expectations of Christ’s commandments to love are high and extremely challenging for natural man. But, the standards cannot be “watered down.” Jesus meant what he said for our good and for our success in growing to be good citizens of The Kingdom. We are to grow to be more and more like Christ, which means we are to be transformed into loving beings. Love is to be the central motivating force which permeates all our thoughts, feelings, and actions throughout all our days. In Jesus words, “I have loved you even as my father has loved me. Live within my love. When you obey me you are living in my love, just as I obey the Father and live in his love. I have told you this so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your cup of joy will overflow! I demand that you love each other as much as I love you. And here is how to measure it – the greatest love is shown when a person lays down his life for his friends, and you are my friends if you obey me.” (John 15:9-14)
Notice the last sentence in the above quotation of Jesus’ words. Love is shown when a person does something beneficial for another person, human or animal. In the above case, a person put his friend’s needs ahead of his own and laid down his very life for his friend’s sake. Also, please notice Jesus’ life. He was busy, busy, busy filling the needs of others. He taught, he healed, he fed. His love constantly involved action on his part. Real love is tremendously active, not wishy-washy and passive. As a bad example, perhaps we have all had the experience of having someone say to us, “Love you,” and then we don’t hear from them for years. Or, we actually never hear from them, it is up to us to initiate contact with them if we are going to have any contact at all. Perhaps the other person had a nice, warm, positive feeling about us when he or she said “Love you,” but that kind of superficial sentimentality was not what Jesus was talking about. To me, it makes sense that if a person loves another individual, the person desires contact, interaction, and closeness with the other, as well as truly wanting the other’s well being. The motivation comes with the love.
Oh, yes, love does include nice, warm feelings, but that’s not all. Besides being active, love requires commitment, fidelity, and consistency. Seems like someone who is truly loving, in God’s terms, is, in reality, a really good caregiver. In other words, a loving person really wants to be nurturing towards the others in his or her life, as circumstances warrant. Phone calls are promptly returned, Letters are responded to. Future plans and arrangements are carried out all possible, or sensitively rescheduled, if need be. Friendly calls are made to “see how you are doing,” and maybe to plan a lunch, or other event, together. A loving person, upon seeing a need in a friend or family member, responds as best he or she can. He or she can be trusted and counted on. Hidden agendas and manipulative games are not part of the picture. The friend or family member is not left feeling like he or she is on the bottom rung of the priority ladder. After Jesus’ resurrection he told St. Peter to take care of his sheep, meaning all those individuals who were committed to Jesus as Lord and Savior (John 21:16).
One fundamental prerequisite for effective love-in-action is the need to pay attention to what is going on . Perceptual focus has to be much broader than one’s own day-to-day concerns. For instance, a man notices that a neighbor family has come to a church dinner for the first time. The man should pay attention and notice that fact and invite the family to eat with him, rather than merely saying a quick “Hello” and moving off to eat in his “own little world.” We need to cultivate the habit of being truly interested in how things are going in others’ lives, without being intrusive. To a certain extent, we need to be willing to share what’s going on in our lives, too Otherwise, we won’t know others’ needs and wants, nor will others recognize ours. So, the upshot of minimal attention and minimal communication is that people simply don’t know one another very well, if at all. Instead of meaningful, loving interacting going on, they are simply strangers, who happen to be sitting or standing around in the same place.
Other fundamental prerequisites are exhibiting openness and showing our feelings, as appropriate to the situation. A loving caregiver weeps with those who are in sorrow, and comforts them, and laughs with those who are rejoicing. He or she is not an emotional “deadpan” who is afraid or unwilling to reveal what he or she is feeling and thinking – a “zombie.” Love can’t flow in a room full of deadpans. A good caregiver tries to make events fun and interesting for the others who are there. He or she makes an effort to actively engage in true hospitality and to authentically connect with others. Humans and animals feel comfortable around such a person, because they feel safe, and they are safe.
Jesus’ kind of love, then, entails much more than simply giving to the poor, or helping a neighbor with a stalled car, as good as those actions are. It actually involves the whole of who we are. As we mature in holiness we are, more and more, daily caregivers because we really do care, and not merely because God told us to. Jesus cared to the depths of his bowels. Such core growth involves much relationship skill development and sensitive awareness. We need to practice really good manners in order to interact with humans and animals in gracious ways. In the case of animals, we need to become informed as to what kind of care is best. In the case of the earth, we need to know how to best preserve our environment, which is, of course, God’s creation. Respectful care is needed everywhere.
Not only do we need to know what to do, we need to know what not to do. We need to be informed and clear about what hurts other people, the earth, and all the animals, so we can avoid doing anything hurtful. For instance, for many, many years much of mankind believed that animals did not feel pain, so it was quite ok to do anything horrible to their bodies. Animals feel equally as much physical, emotional, and mental pain as we do. Also, for many years no one thought there was anything harmful about using herbicides on farmland. Now we know that pesticides of all kinds are ruining the earth! Then, too, we need to be aware of what especially irritates those we are close to, so we can avoid irritating them all possible. It matters!
Becoming a truly loving being and growing in holiness is a big job! Stopping any sinning we may be doing is only part of the job, the other part entails becoming thoroughly loving. When I was in confirmation class as a teenager, I was taught by my main-line denominations pastor that the omission of love is the greatest sin. We need to focus on love and keep practicing and learning. We need to do our quality good part in caring for the other people in our lives, our precious animals, our jobs, our homes, our communities, our charities, and so forth. For most of us, progress does take years. But the rewards are great! Ideally, everything and everyone we touch is better off. And we are better off in this life and the next! Remember, Jesus said we will be filled with joy! Our cup of joy will overflow!
So, God bless you all! Happy growth in loving! Your comments would be so appreciated!