Sunday, September 19, 2021

To Be Loved

What does it mean to be loved? How can love be found? It’s the subject of movies, books, philosophers and romantics. The pursuit of love has steered history. Why does the human heart crave this even if the essence of love is elusive? I’m reminded of the musical “Oliver” as the main character sings “Where is Love?” A young orphan, his heart yearns to find someone who will love him. Like most musicals this ends happily, but the reality for many is that love remains beyond their grasp. 

There are loveless marriages, loveless families, loveless lives. We all have a need to be known and accepted for who we are and not simply for what we do. When dating, we put forth our best image, not just because we desire the admiration of another, but because inwardly we desire to be a that type of person. I’ve often heard the words “He/She brings out the best in me” as a person strives to be better for the sake of the person they love. 

What is love?

Love is a powerful feeling, but it is more than just a emotion. Some of love’s elusive nature for native English speakers may be the fact that the word can mean many things. In Hebrew, there are three words that we can translate as “love”. In Greek there are seven words, each with a distinctly different meaning, and the highest form of love is Agape, unconditional love. 

We are each designed with the need to be loved unconditionally. Our fear is that if someone knows about our dark side, we will be rejected. To be known, warts and all, and still be loved. This type of love is truly divine and reflects the nature of God. God looks at each of us and loves us more than we deserve. He sees our lies, our melt-downs, and our self-serving actions, yet He still chooses to love us. 

In our fear of rejection, we can often reject others before they have chance to reject us. We can rationalize the lies that Satan whispers in our ear. “You’re not good enough” can become “Who can live up to a perfect standard?”, and that can continue to morph into bitterness against God or others. Rather than being “dumped”, a self-destructive pattern is to sever the relationship first. That’s what so many do with God. Yet God loves us unconditionally, and until we can experience that Agape of God, we can’t fathom anyone loving us like that.

Betrayal and Rejection

Our experiences in life may be filled with betrayal and rejection. From an early age, “love” may have only been experienced as a result of our performance, a conditional love. Attention may have only been received if we were attractive, and so we pour our efforts into being “beautiful”, believing that will make us more “lovable”. Or our strivings could be through athletics, academics, the arts, or status. It’s all a born of desperation to be loved even if it’s all conditional.

And when our efforts fail? Sometimes our love runs dry when we have loved well, but a person who should have returned that love rejects us, betrays us. Why should we love well when others do not? That question can become a death spiral, where we have learned the wrong thing from our experience and decide that love is an illusion or a foolish game. Yet still our hearts long for love.

The Answer

No document, podcast or movie can fully answer all these questions, but let me offer some thoughts that have shaped my life. They aren’t original but they are cohesive when contemplated together. First, we experience pain and rejection because wounded people wound people. Second, God loves us unconditionally, knowing both what we’ve done and what we will do. Third, we can only love like God if we experience His unconditional love. Fourth, love is a decision to give, and in giving we somehow receive. Fifth, if we “love” to receive, that is loving conditionally, which is not really love at all. 

Focusing on the third point above, we can only love because God first loves us. (see 1 John 4:19) If we want to be loved, we need to start with the One Who loves us perfectly and Who will fill up our love tank so that we can love like Him. Then and only then can we be ambassadors of His love, and He promises that if we delight ourselves in Him, He will give us the desires of our hearts. (See Psalms 37:4) I believe that it was basking in God’s love that Francis of Assisi could pen his prayer. (See http://mitchellmalloy.blogspot.com/2010/04/800-years-later.html) And basking in His love, our own prayers come alive.

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