Love is not being given the priority Jesus meant it to have. Oh, love is mentioned in churches now and then in glowing, flowery language, but it is not the central focus. It needs to be. We are not really following Jesus’ directions unless it is. The consequences of such slighting have been, and are, very grave.
Biblical references as to the importance of love are many, and give us descriptions as to what this love consists of. Jesus was very definite when he said, “’ Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second most important is similar: ‘Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.’ All the other commandments and all the demands of the prophets stem from these two laws and are fulfilled if you obey them. Keep only these and you will find that you are obeying all the others” (Matthew 22:37-40).
St. Paul wrote “And may the Lord make your love to grow and to overflow to each other and to everyone else, just as our love does toward you. This will result in your hearts being made strong, sinless, and holy by God our Father…” (I Thessalonians 2:8). Also, St. Peter wrote “And now this word to all of you. You should be like one happy family, full of sympathy towards one another with tender hearts and humble minds” (I Peter 3:8). Anything less is not, cannot be, and never will be Kingdom living!
Jesus and his followers were not arbitrarily commanding us to love for no particular reason. Jesus knew that we human beings were created to need good, wholesome, faithful love. We are a gregarious species. Our actual experiencing of love in our lives, or the lack of such, affects our whole lives, our innermost beings, our development into socialized creatures, and our manner of relating to the world around us. Even the very development of our physical brains is affected by love.
To begin at the beginning, how does the presence or absence of healthy love affect a human infant? The quality of the caregiving received is pivotal. A good caregiver is sensitive to an infant’s needs and cues. The infant receives what he or she needs without having to wait too long, and in a gentle, appropriate manner. Optimally, mother and infant are in interactional synchrony, or harmony, with one another. As a result, the infant can “relax in his or her guts” and can have confidence that his world is a safe place and will meet his needs. The child is free to be much more explorative of his or her surroundings, which greatly enhances skill development. When frightened or upset, the child will readily go to the caregiver for soothing, which is successful in restoring his inner calm. The child trusts his or her caregiver. He is a happy child.
Unfortunately, an infant who has an inept, neglectful, or abusive caregiver does not develop trust and calm in his or her guts. Having to wait too long, or not having important needs met at all results in fear and insecurity. The baby rages – arms and legs flailing, bellowing out loudly. Caregiver angry voices, angry faces, rough, inept handling, and insensitivity to the baby’s cues begin to damage the budding personality very early. Although the baby certainly does not contemplate building walls of distrust, insecurity, and fear around his little self, wall building just happens, in defense of more hurt in the future. In the worst case, the baby does not trust his caregiver or anyone else. He does not seek his caregiver for soothing. His exploration of his environment is hampered, and so is his learning. His world seems threatening.
The first infant, the one with the loving caregiver, is well equipped to enter the school years as a confident student, having learned good socialization skills. Because the child has experienced, kindness, gentleness, and compassion, he has learned to be that way him or herself. And so on throughout life, the person is much more able to handle challenges with good judgment – much more liable to make good choices as to companions and activities. The child is capable of being genuinely loving. He is not harboring fear and anger inside, and looks forward to life with enthusiasm.
The second infant, the one with the poor caregiver, is liable to grow up very angry and afraid. He or she is angry because the legitimate needs of his very self for love and good nurturance have not been met. In school, he or she probably will not be able to learn as well, due to insufficient prerequisite skills and preoccupation with feelings of inadequacy. The child longs for someone nurturing to really belong to, and often ends up with the “wrong kind” of friends – those who are just as needy as he or she is. Because the child has not been able to get his or her needs met through direct means, he resorts to manipulative techniques. Manipulating devices are frequently modeled by parents, friends, and others.
The moral development of such an insecure, angry, afraid child is often a disaster. Conscience development does not occur in a healthy manner. In the worst case, conscience development does not appear to occur at all – the neuronal connections do not become constructed in the brain. For example, consider those who remain habitual criminals, no matter how lengthy and extensive rehabilitation efforts have been. They treat other living beings as though they are inanimate objects, to use, exploit, abuse, or destroy.
An adult with a defective conscience, or no conscience at all, plus a huge amount of anger, is an explosive combination, to be sure! What happens? Meanness. Violence. Hurt and pain to others, often starting with helpless, innocent animals. Such a person, at rock bottom, is concerned with getting what he or she wants, using whatever means works, at whatever cost to others. A predator, who is miserable deep inside. A bully, or an individual whose exploitation and destruction are carried out in hidden ways.
In conclusion, I hope I have made my point clear enough. Ongoing, nurturant, healthy love is not optional! If we are to have healthy personalities, capable of true kindness and consideration for the earth, for the animals, and for one another, we must actively practice wholesome lovingness. Jesus meant what he said. He was not being frivolous. Certainly not all insecure children grow up to be character-disordered predators, but people who lack the experiencing of good, healthy love are all hampered in one way or another. Our behaviors and manners of relating affect those around us profoundly, and their actions affect us in turn. In the end, love really does cast out sin and evil.