Love is All You Need
According to Jesus there are two great commandments. Love God with all your heart and mind, all your soul and strength; and love your neighbour as yourself. As Christians we take these commandments to heart; they are demanding of course, but, at first sight, they seem quite straightforward. I suggest, however, that in most people’s experience love is actually far from straightforward. In a variety of different relationships with a spouse, or partner, or children, or friends, love may mean very different things and it can be very challenging.
What is the most loving behaviour? And then, if we think about loving people with whom we are not closely connected, it becomes even more complex. What is the most loving thing to do for a business competitor or a homeless person, or an Islamic State militant? How do you love someone who doesn’t like you? The word ‘love’ has different meanings according to the circumstances. Think about what it might mean to you in those situations.
How do we love God? St. John writes in one of his letters, “it’s not so much that we love God as that God first loved us.” A relationship with God is two way, and part of that is simply learning how to be loved, to experience the sense that God is holding us in the palm of his hand with an innate tenderness. You sometimes feel that the love of God is rather different from being liked by God. God may be gritting his teeth and forcing himself to love you, when actually he rather disapproves of you. He is merciful because it is his duty but you really deserve to be chastised. And because love is a rather overused word, it can lose its meaning. Maybe we should find another word. I have always found it really helpful to believe that God likes me. It’s hard to believe, because sometimes we don’t like ourselves much. But God likes you, God has compassion for you, God feels unconditionally positive towards you. You are dear to God.
The command is to love your neighbour as you love yourself. You can’t really love anyone else if you don’t love yourself. That’s another helpful way to look at it. If you are inclined to be hard on yourself, imagine that you are your best friend. Ask yourself, in your role as a friend, how you feel at the moment. Be aware of the tender understanding and compassion your friend is feeling for you, and try to feel it about yourself. You will have a well of self-compassion, which you can draw on to have compassion for others. God is your ultimate friend, infinitely kind. Instead of love, maybe we should adopt these two words, “friendship” and “kindness” when we think of God. There is nothing grudging, nothing conditional about God’s love for you.
The month of Lent and St Valentine
This year, Lent begins on 10th February. Lent is supposed to be challenging, as we ask ourselves difficult questions. How do we love those who are difficult to love? But self-compassion is the starting
point. Look inwards with kindness and friendship. Then you may have a chance of loving your neighbour. On St Valentine’s Day, send yourself a message of love, friendship and care. Give yourself a break.
After all, God can’t be wrong about you!