Lately I’ve been learning a lot about love. A crash course, really, apparently the Lord feels that I need more of it. And I don’t mean the term “love” that we like to throw around here in the south. For example, I say things like, “I love cheese grits.” And I do, but that is not the type of love I’m talking about here. I’m not sure I can really define it, or understand it fully, but I know that I am on a journey to experience it. Let me explain. Have you ever cared about someone more than your own feelings? I know for me that I carry my feelings in high esteem. Meaning, I don’t just allow others to come in and hurt them, I actively try and protect them. Lately I’ve been put into some situations where I’ve gotten my feelings hurt and for the life of me I want to be mad about it. I try so hard to keep my feelings safe and sound that when someone breeches my safety zone and hurts them, I want to hurt them back, you know? (I‘m not talking physically, well maybe a little sometimes.) I want to retaliate to what they’ve said or done, defend myself. Or maybe ignore them out of spite to let them know they’ve crossed the line with me. (How dare they?!) This is the type of behavior I have fallen into time and time again, only to find that it doesn’t make me feel any better. (Clearly, I am a slow learner.) I just feel hurt longer and they seem to go on about their lives as though nothing ever happened. I’m beginning to realize that when I respond in a way that is typical and expected, it makes the person who offended me feel validated in their behavior. It’s a “I hurt them, they hurt me so now we’re even” kind of thing. No one wins. I can remember when Jeff and I were newlyweds, (Oh lord that was a long time ago.) we fought like cats and dogs. Each one of us wanting to have the last word because we needed to feel heard. The problem was we were both so busy trying to make our point or defend ourselves that neither of us ever stopped long enough to realize that our verbal tug of war wasn’t changing anything. It was a dead tie, and not in a good way. We were married a few years before we really began to understand the value of holding our tongues and allowing God to do the talking. (Honestly, this is something we work on to this day, like this moment even.) I remember the times we argued and he would finally “give in” and declare that I was right, it never really felt as good to “win” as I thought it would. And, if he verbally fought back, I would rally. It was an endless, losing cycle. But, when my husband began to learn the value in silence, not punishing silence, but the kind of silence where you have a thousand words on the tip of your tongue, but you bite your tongue to keep from saying them, things began to change. My pride wishes I could tell you that we learned value in being quiet around the same time, but the truth is he exampled this to me first. The Lord began to use his silence as a valuable tool to speak to my heart. The more he surrendered, unwilling to defend or win, the more I was left with my own words ringing in my ears. God became his defender and He was so much more effective. (Conviction, that’s a good old church word that applies here. I felt the wrong in what I was doing with my mean words.) What does this have to do with loving others, I hear you mumble. Everything. Recently I had an experience where someone was being very hard on me. The kind of hard where you sorta hate to see them coming. I complained, groaned whined about my hurt feelings and wondered how they could say such things, yada, yada, yada. Finally, after this had gone on a while, I began to feel convicted (there’s that word again) to shut my mouth. Now, to some of you, that is no big deal. But to those of us who love to use lots of words, it is. (A really big deal, and I need you to understand that. Really. Big. Deal.) It didn’t take long before I discovered that as I shut my mouth, instead of groaning and complaining about the offender, the Lord was able to deal with my heart. As my heart began to open (ever so slightly) to this person, I began to see things differently. I began to realize that just like in my marriage, when I rail against someone who is hurting me, the voice of the Lord can be drowned out by my own. It prolongs the agony of the situation. When my voice is out of the way, (when I finally hush) then God can deal with their heart. My silence can become the catalyst that provides an opportunity for God to speak. But, in order for this to happen I have to love. Because love looks out for the best interest of others above my own. “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” is what I’m told in I Corinthians 13:1. Trust me, this is an ongoing life lesson for me, I don’t want to be a clanging cymbal. And that is where it gets tough. I’ve heard lots and lots of lessons, sermons and read countless articles on love and what it should look like. But, few of them really tell me how to get from where I am to where I need to be in loving others. I am left feeling like, “Well, okay, I need to love more, how do I do that? What is that supposed to look like in real life?” I’m a planner, I need a plan. Let me offer a suggestion, in case you’re wondering like I was. I began to ask myself, am I willing to love someone enough to be hurt by them and not retaliate? To let God step in and be my defender? To be silent when there are a thousand things I want to say or feel like I have a right to say? To love them more than my own feelings? Basically, to step back so God can step up. Ouch. (I am not talking about verbal abuse, just the everyday hurts that we all deal with.) That’s a tough truth for me. This is where my faith must be tried by the fire of action. And where I must actually practice the humility that is supposed to be evident in my life as a follower of Christ. He must increase and I must decrease. You won’t hear that message on primetime TV or in main stream media, yet, it is the only thing that truly works. So the next time you are face to face with a difficult child, spouse, co-worker, friend, church member, the teller at the bank, the Wal-Mart check out person (it gets real here), your mother, father, sister, brother, anyone that shows up in your life and you want to groan. Stop and remember that love is much more effective when it is lived out through action, and actions speak louder than words, and less words means God can speak. And when God speaks, that means good things are coming. Can I get an amen? I love good things!
I Corinthians 13:4-7 “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.”
In my next blog post I would like to talk to you about prayer. The idea of loving others is wonderful, but completely impossible without prayer to empower us. I’m learning that in a very real way right now. I am still on my journey to freedom that we’ve been discussing, it is painful and so far and sometimes I feel like I’m on a roller coaster, but I’m not giving up. I’ve tasted a little of the freedom that is my goal and now I’m addicted to what I know my life can be like. As you’ve heard me say, and as momma always said, one day at a time. I’m so glad to be on this journey with you, see you next time.