Another Mother’s Day has come and gone. Did you honor your mother? I made sure to send cards to the three mothers in my life: my mother, my wife and my sister and I also called all three. I did this because I love them and it’s that feeling of love that brought me to contemplate what love is in Biblical terms.
The greatest commandment is to love God wholly and the second is to love others as you love yourself. I’ve been struggling with this second commandment a lot lately.
As you can imagine, there are a lot of people in prison that are not nice. It’s these people I’m having trouble “loving.” They’re selfish, rude, inconsiderate and disrespectful – not much to love, right?
So, I set about discovering what was meant by “love others as you love yourself.” This effort took me throughout the Bible; yet it is was John’s three letters, along with the Holy Spirit, that helped me to see what it means to love others as I love myself.
Now, it must be said that I have no emotion I’d label as love for myself, at least not like I feel for my wife, mother or sister. For me, I connected love with an emotion – and admittedly the emotion I feel for others in prison is NOT love. It is discouraging trying to love others and feeling all sorts of emotions other than love.
I meditated on it and I listened for the Holy Spirit to talk to me and He did. The Holy Spirit told me to read the Bible! But wasn’t that what I was already doing? I felt a little let down by this direction as what I’d read provided no particular concept on love when loving is hard.
I’m reading the Bible from cover to cover right now. I’d just finished 2Peter when the Holy Spirit said to read the Bible and so I continued reading; the next three books were John’s three letters. They’re like little gems in the Bible and are quick, easy reads. Yet they held for me the answer to what it means to love others as I love myself, and it gave new meaning to the phrase, “do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.”
What I learned is that love can be an emotion, an action or both but that they are not necessarily connected. What drove this home for me was John’s constant talk of taking action to show love and his admonishment to love one another. For example, in 1John 4:9, we are told that God showed His love for us by sending His only Son into the world for us. Yes, God was reacting to an emotion of love that He felt for us but just as importantly He took action. Again, in 3John 1:5-8, a letter to Gaius, John talks of showing hospitality to strangers and then sending them on their way in a manner that honors God. John was telling Gaius to take action, not to have love as an emotion for these strangers and it hit me…
I don’t need to feel the emotion of love in order for me to show love.
I need simply to act.
Perhaps this is obvious to you, but it was a revelation for me! It changes everything about how I interact with those whose personalities and actions are challenging. I can act in a loving way and thus fulfill the second greatest commandment. Just as I don’t feel the emotion of love towards myself I try to treat myself in a loving way and it’s that manner of treatment that God wants us to share and so, “do unto others…”
I’m trying to put this into practice. It’s not always easy, as kindness is often taken as weakness inside these walls, and once you’re seen as weak you become a target for all sorts of abuses. But I’m trying none the less. I’m saying, “excuse me,” when others bump into me. I’m giving the beggar of coffee a spoonful of my instant and I’m listening to the “whiner” when he needs an ear – and other things as well.
Read the three letters of John (they’re brief and can be read in less than 30 minutes) and find your own blueprint for love.