Warning: we will be talking, albeit generically, about physical and emotional abuse. If these topics are triggers for you emotionally, feel free to respond in a way healthy for you.
When we talk of love, we often think of certain images, pictures we hold in our minds. Those Norman Rockwell-like sights are often images of people falling in love, being in love. They are visions of parents with their children, families gathered, living life. They are feelings brought about when we think about life-long friendships, remembering, capturing moments, and replaying them on screens in our minds. This idealized form of love leaves many feeling a sense of comfort, warm fuzzies if you will.
But not everyone relates to this.
Our conception of love in popular culture, our personal Rockwellian portraits do not always live up to reality. While we may idealize certain moments as the ones, we want to relive in our mind’s eye again and again, the truth may be darker, more uncomfortable, less idyllic. For many people, love is tainted by physical and emotional damage—broken relationships, abusive people, surviving hellish situations. Both men and women report physical and emotional abuse at the hands those close them in the home and workspace. The statistics are alarming, but the truth is one person treated this way is too many.
Love, or at the perception of it for some, is simply not very lovely. Love is a very splintered thing, fractured into negative emotions. Love is anything but the modern perception of love. Many of you here have experienced this. My hope is that in this conversation we might find healing.
When we are told people love us and they do things damaging to us, our concept of love and how we should feel it gets skewed if not severely damaged. We then see love, any expression of love, through this broken lens. We regard it with wariness, skepticism, even hostility. Worse, we may even begin to think perhaps there is something wrong with us. We may see ourselves as unlovable, undesirable, or worse, deserving of the abusive treatment we lived through. Somewhere in the process of sorting these emotions, we simply lose our ability to accept or receive love.
The truth is we are all in some ways damaged by life. Some of us have and take the opportunity to heal and for some of us, healing is a more difficult journey. The amount and severity of the damage done has a great deal to do with how easily we recover as well as the tools we find or are given to repair the damage. This damage can cause some people to seek out love from places and people that continue to create damage—relationships that are like those had previously with abusive people, negative relationships with things like food or work or exercise, even negative relationships with God.
So, what do we do with this? How do we learn to accept love when everything things around us distort what love looks like to the point that it isn’t love anymore?
First, we must realize we are unconditionally loved. The very God who called us into existence did so because that same God loves us. Notice in the scripture for today it reads, “This is love: it is not that we loved God but that he loved us.” True love finds it origin in God and therefore true love, in all the forms we spoke of last week, is unspoiled, positive, fulfilling. Unfortunately, this is not always the love offered to us by those around us. Because of the pain and heartache we have experienced, we bring our own baggage to an expression of love offered without the aid of God’s grace. When Paul talks of love in 1 Corinthians 13, he speaks of a gift, something offered to us by God for the purpose of expressing the love of God to others. The only way we can truly express this kind of love—the divine love—is the Holy Spirit working in and through us. God can work through us, if we are open to God, and offer this kind of love to others, but only with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Second, we must learn to let go of cheap imitations of love. Again, we go back to Paul and 1 Corinthians 13. When Paul begins to list the attributes of love—patience, kindness, and the like—he is expressing the truest, Spirit filled version of love, given by God to be given to others. Anything that doesn’t live up to the standard set in this passage isn’t love. So often we accept these cheap imitations, often damaging and painful imitations, because we have never seen the real thing. Usually, it takes either the Holy Spirit revealing it to us or someone else showing it to us to see the true version and realize the imitation is what it is.
Finally, we need to be looking for those around us who are hurting in this way. Without a doubt, I believe there are many around us who struggle with accepting or receiving a true expression of love from God or others because they have no way of knowing the difference. The cheap imitations they have been saddled with are their only point of reference. We need to live into the last part of the passage from 1 John 4, “…if God loved us this way, we also ought to love each other.” Not only do we see it here but all through the Hebrew and Christian Testaments we have commandments to offer this true expression of love to others. This love showed to us by God should become the love others see in us and the love God can reach them with through us. We must live love of God and neighbor so those who have never truly seen it or understood it can know it.
Unfortunately, that isn’t always the way of it in the church. Partly because many in the church have never really experienced it. Sure, they may have had a moment where they felt something, maybe had a momentary experience. But many take that as the singular experience of faith. They’ve joined the club and now they wait for the heavenly express to whisk them away with the rest of the club. They can’t really share love because they don’t know it, have never seen it.
So where are you today? Are you in need of true love rather than the cheap imitation? Find it in God and in the community of those who chose to be disciples of Jesus. Are you part of the club but not one really a disciple? Its time live into the love that called you and learn to accept fully the love of God that you may share that love as a true disciple? Maybe you’re one of the disciples living into love, connected by it to God and helping others connect. If you are, keep it up. God’s love can never be exhausted, and we will always have the source to draw on and share with others.
Open yourself and accept God’s love.
You must be logged in to post a comment.