The True Nature of Love
Iíve recently come to the conclusion that I have greatly misunderstood God and His nature because I anthropomorphized Him. I put human qualities and a human face on His nature. Iíve also come to the conclusion that many (if not most) people do this to some extent as well. As a result we have unnecessary difficulties in our relationship with Him. Perhaps we go through periods when we donít have a relationship with Him at all depending on just how human weíve tried to make Him.
Furthermore, I believe I (and most people) have misunderstood what love is. This is not surprising given that God is love (1 John 4:8). Simply put, we have our own idea as to what constitutes love and we often spend most of our lives chasing after it or driving it away. Much like we may often do with God Himself.
For most of my life I have struggled with having truly loving relationships. It seemed I either struggled to feel accepted and approved of or struggled to accept and approve. It some instances it was a tug of war for both. For most of my life I have misunderstood what love is in all of its many forms. Whether it was romantic, paternal, fraternal, agape, or spiritual (that is to say my love for God), I could never quite grasp its nature; and even as I began to understand what love is and what it isnít, recognizing it and practicing it has been extremely difficult.
Paul gives us a wonderful description as to what love is (and isnít) in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7:
4†Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5†It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6†Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7†It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Most people agree with this even though they admit that living up to this standard of love is nigh on impossible. Even those who donít profess belief in God often sight this as the ideal of what love is.
However, what does love like this look like? Weíre called to: ĎLove the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mindí; and, ĎLove your neighbor as yourself.í (Luke 10:27) Then this scripture in 1 Corinthians tells us what love is. And our nature seems predisposed to being unable to practice this sort of love for any length of time.
What does love really look like? How do we express it? Iíve wrestled with this for most of my life in all of my relationships. Iíve tried to practice 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Or have I? Could it be Iím practicing love the way I think itís practiced and not necessarily as God practices it and expects us to practice it?
A year or so ago I was taking care of a patient who had recently been paralyzed from the neck down. I used to bathe, feed, dress, and reposition this person all through out my shift at work. During that time Iíd talk to this person, but mostly I would listen.
They were understandably devastated by what had happened to them. As I got to know them, they confided they wanted to die. They resented the efforts being spent on keeping them alive and they were fighting their doctor and their family in pursuing ongoing medical care. Their primary issue was that they no longer had any value to their loved ones. What could they do for their family now? They couldnít work, play, or even walk or feed themselves.
I listened and if suicidal ideation was expressed, reported it as my job description and hospital policy dictated. Of course, these sorts of thoughts and feelings are normal after any devastating loss. I wasnít (and neither was this patientís doctors and nurses) surprised by this personís lack of hope or desire in living.
Eventually after several weeks caring for them I was bathing them one day they spent the entire time talking and I listened. I asked questions and commiserated where I could. They thanked me for taking the time to listen, truly listen during our times together. Very few people were doing that for them (listening). They appreciated it and told me they truly felt better after our times together during the day. Finally they point blank asked me why they should bother. What did they have to offer? And they wanted MY answer this time.
I finally answered the question I had put off answering. For previously I referred them to their pastor or loved ones and their doctors and/or nurses. Now I had no choice. They were asking ME point blank. So I asked this person if I truly had comforted them during the past few weeks. Their answer was yes.
To paraphrase the remainder of this conversation, I went on to explain to them that if my parent, spouse, or child were lying in that bed instead of them Iíd want them to carry on because I loved them for who they are, not what they can or cannot do. I valued them as individuals who loved me. Further, in the case of my spouse and parents, I valued their wisdom and experience and that they could still help me in my lifeís struggles. As for my children, I valued the love they shared with me, not what they can do for me. All of them show love, encouragement, support, and good humor. Time with any of these people was enjoyable. Given and receiving attention (love) was what I valued. I further told this person that it would break my heart if my parent, spouse, or child elected to die rather than spend as much time as they had left with me, especially if the reason they made such a choice was because they couldnít DO things for me. This is because I believe I need as much love as I can give and get. I donít need someone to be able to walk and do stuff so much as to share love with. So I asked the patient, ďSo what would you say to your mom or dad or spouse or child?Ē (They had all of the above). There was no immediate answer.
So I went on to say to them, ďYou say I comforted you today and that Iíve comforted you in days previous. It wasnít the bath today that comforted you. It hasnít been all of the things Iíve done for you and still do for you. It was and is the quality of the time weíve spent talking and listening to one another.Ē The patient quietly thanked me and said nothing more the rest of that day.
I had some time off after this and when I returned to work a few days later this person had finally made the decision to pursue rehabilitation at a different facility and agreed to try living at home with their family once their rehabilitation was complete. They were actually in the process of being discharged to an off site rehabilitation facility to pursue their ongoing recovery when I clocked in for my shift. I donít know for certain if I had anything to do with that decision. I didnít have time to ask before they left. What I do know is that I meant what I told them because I had actually searched my soul before giving them an answer and I believed and still believe it is true.
Itís the times we share and the quality of that time and how invested we are in actually listening, taking an interest in, and paying attention to one another that is truly important. This is love.
Perhaps this is how we show love for God as well? That is an important question I have to answer. You need to answer it too. Is the beginning and end to love simply investing time, interest, and attention in those people in our lives and in our God? Are the labors of our love supposed to be a pursuit and demonstration of those things (time, attention, interest)? Are the things we give or receive from that love simply the fruits of it and not the actual pay off or end game?
If that is all love is, both the beginning and the end, what do we do as Believers to demonstrate our love of God and those people He has put in our lives?
This is something to pray about, study Godís Word, and meditate on as we continue our walk in the Lord.
Godís love is unconditional (Isaiah 1:18, Romans 8:38-39, 1 John 4). Godís love is full of grace (unmerited favor) (Titus 2:11). Godís love is demonstrated by the time and attention He gives us (Psalm 8:4, Matthew 5:43-45). Godís love is demonstrated by how He goes about meeting our needs (spiritual needs first and foremost) (Matthew 6:32-33, Hebrews 12:4-6). Humans struggle to show love like this to others. We donít love like this. Our love is conditional, often lacking in grace, often with little time and attention toward those we say we love, and finally, often with little to no focus on meeting the spiritual needs of people in our lives. However, we are called to be like God (Matthew 5:48). So this means we are to show love as He does (John 13:34).
Perhaps it is because we donít truly understand love we donít understand Godís love and therefore God Himself. We believe God has conditions, little grace, little time and attention for us, and little interest in our spiritual condition. Perhaps in believing this, we run from Him, especially if we believe weíre worthless and bad. Finally, perhaps that is why we struggle to not only show and receive love from our Creator, but to show and receive love from the people in our lives too.
I pray that I can demonstrate love as God does, in the way He wills me to both toward Him and toward everyone in my life. Love that is unconditional, full of grace, in which I give my time, interest, and attention (the true gift of the self), with the aim of meeting the real needs of others (their spiritual ones in addition to their physical). And for my fellow Believers in Christ, I pray you too will be willing and able to do this. Amen.
God bless you!