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When You Can't Seem to Love Well

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that love is difficult.  You don’t have to look very far in this world to realize that we are not the only ones who find that there is a vast chasm between love and how we actually functionally live.  And we know that how we actually live is what actually matters.  ‘Love’ is thrown all over the place these days.  Sayings like, “Love conquers all.”  “Love is what matters.”  “Love what matters.” etc, etc etc.  The problem is not that we don’t know what love is or that we don’t know that love is important.  The problem is that we don’t know how to love because we aren’t loving.

I have been really intrigued by Jesus’ life and how He always loved so well.  He loved individuals and crowds.  He loved the self-righteous and the down-trodden, He loved the tax collector and the poor, He loved the Samaritans – they were the ‘other’ of His day, He loved the children and the elderly, He loved the rejectable and He loved the great.  He loved all so well and loved them in the way they needed to be loved.  Some required compassion, some needed firmness, some needed healing, some needed deliverance, but all needed something and He gave it all from His heart of being FOR people.

Following His example is much more easily said than done. And here is the problem. We will always love the ones on ‘our side.’ It’s in our nature to be ‘us and them’ and the us is always the right way to be or the right way to think. We make all kinds of ‘us and thems’ in the church world too.  “They are the critical ones and we are the loving ones.”  

I don’t think I am an ‘us and them’ person until I start looking at who I have a hard time loving.   Jesus was different.  Everything He did was FOR the other, even when it was a rebuke.  His stance was love and everything He did was framed in love.  He couldn’t help it.  He was and is love embodied.   His goal was always to move people toward Himself and toward truth.  Always.

As God has been healing and restoring deep places in my heart, I have noticed that I have been able to love better. ‘Well’ doesn’t really fit yet, but better is at least moving in the right direction.  As I have noticed my capacity to love expand, it has gotten me thinking about what is so amazing about Jesus that He could love all so well.  Clearly, He is God, but we are to be modeling our life after His, so what does He need to do in my heart so that I can love well?  Because gritting my teeth and trying to love more doesn’t actually work.

Obviously, sin and selfishness will keep us from loving well, but I have noticed something else that keeps us from loving well.  Brokenness. The kind where somewhere along the way, there has been a crack or a shattering in our heart. It could be big or it could be small, but it is a place that is no longer whole. Many times we stuff in an attempt to move on, when really God wants to heal that place.  Broken places will not allow us to love unconditionally because someone will bump us there and our defenses will go up. We will need others to be complete. We cannot love through our defenses.

Something that was so different about Jesus is that He was safe. He knew Who He was and was validated by the Father. He didn’t need people around Him to validate Him. He wasn’t looking for those around Him to complete Him because He was complete. If someone rejected Him, it didn’t cling to the rejection He already struggled with because He knew Who He was accepted by. A little rejection from man didn’t compare to the acceptance from the Father. If someone flattered Him, it didn’t fill a need to be recognized because He had the audience of the Father. His generosity was purely out of compassion for the people, not to feel good about the kindness He had bestowed. If someone mocked Him, He didn’t feel a need to prove Himself because He knew down to His very core Who He was and Whose He was.  He could converse with the lowly and not fear what people thought. He could go to a hated tax collector’s home or speak life to a convicted prostitute and not be affected by the stares that followed.  Not only that, but He could talk with the powerful and not be looking for the power that so often comes from that. He didn’t need the approval or accolades from man because there was not a place in Him that was empty needing to be filled.  He was a safe place for others to wear their brokenness around because it didn’t affect Him.  It didn’t enact self-defense, but rather compassion.  He came to heal the brokenhearted and set captives free (Isaiah 61:1) and that’s exactly what He did at great cost to Himself.

I’ve noticed that the people I have the hardest time loving are not necessarily the poor, or the children from hard situations, or the person who has experienced a great loss. For me, the ones I have a hard time loving are the ones who I feel threatened by. They are the ones I kind of avoid. The ones who make me feel like less or like a failure. I don’t really like those people. Some of them may just make me feel like a failure because of what they represent.  

This is what I am finding, I am able to fairly easily love people who like me and who agree with what I am doing for the most part. The ones I have the hardest time loving are the ones who bump up against my broken places.  Maybe it’s someone who is against a life decision we have made for our family, or someone who is highly dogmatic about certain beliefs, or perhaps a person who is overly critical and the list goes on.  

The bottom line is that anyone who bumps into an insecurity or something in me that is not anchored in the truth of what God says will make me a little unsettled and I will have a hard time loving.  On top of that, I am finding that sometimes the things I do FOR other people are actually so that I feel better about myself.  So in the end, it’s really for me. This shows up in how I feel when the thing I have done is not appreciated or noticed. I have found that many times the things that I do are with the motive for people to like me. The more insecure and broken we are, the less pure our love will be.

So friends, let’s stop trying so hard to love more and maybe look at the reasons we’re not loving.  It may be a little more complicated than, “I need to be more loving.” To be honest, I had never given thought to the idea that possibly there was something within me not allowing true, unadulterated love for others.  We need to be growing in love.  We won’t be unloving, then suddenly loving.  It is a maturing process.

Ephesians 4:15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.

It never occurred to me that maybe God needed and will keep needing to make me more whole so that I can love more wholly and that means more loving.  Of course, sin is so often married to the brokenness. There can be whole mess of why we can’t love a person, a type of person, or those around us, but let’s stop trying to do it without God. What if it’s not just a matter of Him putting more love there and suddenly we’re oozing love; but a mixture of us repenting for wrong motives, Him healing those places that react negatively to the person, and Him filling the need we’re trying to fill using those around us.

I know I used to march right past the ‘ugh’ feeling I get sometimes.  This could be  toward a person, myself or toward a situation. I am learning the ‘ugh’ feeling in general is a warning light to be heeded. It means that something is a little off in my heart and it’s like a laser pointing to an area that God wants to heal and deal with.  We don’t actually have to live with those or cover them up with right words that sound good. God is actively looking to restore us and show us His heart for us and as He does that, we will find ourselves learning to love.

I know now if someone is a little hard to be around for me, it often means that they are hitting something that is not secured in Him. He is more than willing to show it to me and heal and restore that place as well as show me wrong attitudes I have. When He clears those things out, something beautiful happens – there is more capacity for His love in me.  I can both see His heart for me more and love those around me more.   Instead of asking Him to help us to love more, let’s ask Him to make us more loving.  There is a world of difference really.

I John 4:19 We love each other because he loved us first.

Ephesians 3:16-19 16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.