Love in the best sense

So for those of you who already know about this little cultivating character experiment, I’ve spent this past week focusing on the first fruit of the spirit, love. I’ve tried to make it the topic and focus of my prayer and study time. This type of selfless, putting-others-first kind of love certainly has a well-deserved place among the list of the fruits of the spirit, because it truly takes God’s spirit working in us to even accomplish it at all.

I have to say, after looking for evidence of this fruit in my own life, even after only a week, I’ve noticed a couple of pretty glaring things about myself:

1) I love loving people. No problem there. As long as its on my own terms and timetable. Loving those awesome people in my life who are genuinely great…no problemo. I’ll drop everything and make you a meal, drive you somewhere, or give you anything I have. It’s an all-out crazy love-fest for my amazing friends anytime, anywhere. But that chump driving the car in front of me on 71 who couldn’t care less if I make it to my appointment on time… Those people who demand a bug chunk of time out of my day so they can tell me about their problems, then don’t actually care about doing anything to change things….those people who don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom in a public place (gag)…and that dude at Dollar General who complained (very loudly) for 15 straight minutes yesterday, exclaiming over and over that he didn’t get how this “could be called a dollar store” because “everything in here is more than 1 dollar!” when Dollar Tree (where everything IS $1!) was within walking distance in the very same parking lot…??? Yeah, those people. I gotta say I’m a tad salty when it comes to them, not so much graciously loving. Sigh. I guess admitting there’s a problem is the first step to dealing with it, right-o?

2) I have an issue with score-keeping when it comes to loving others. I’ve noticed this happens in two ways. First, it occurs specifically with my spouse. My husband and I couldn’t be more opposite in the way we speak (and receive) love. My primary love language is affirming words, (words…no surprise there!) which means I need to hear how he feels about me and our relationship. Often. Like all the time. His love language is acts of service, which means I could tell him all day long how wonderful he is, but he really feels loved when I do very practical things for him to make his life less stressful.  I noticed that when I am really trying hard to love him in that way, I kind of catch myself making a little mental list… okay, I cleaned the house, folded all the laundry, organized all of his workout clothes for the week, and made a week’s worth of meals ahead of time so he’d have a home-cooked meal every day. Check, check, check, and check. But he hasn’t asked me about my day or what I have coming up this week. He hasn’t said a word about how I look, or said that he missed me this week. Well, I guess I can lay off the love language business a little since he’s clearly not interested in reciprocating…

Yeah, that’s pretty much an EPIC FAIL in the love department. When we start keeping score and “holding out” from loving each other on purpose, neither of us gets our needs met and we both become grumpy, to say the least. The goal of a well-rounded marriage truly is to out-give one another, and loving our spouse with that selfless agape love (the love with which Christ loved us) is the only goal. If we’re both doing that, then everyone wins. Do I have a long way to go in this department? Yes, no doubt. I suspect many of us do. But I will say that recognizing this helps me focus my prayer life toward that end. God, please help me look at loving just for its own sake and never to get anything in return or to set up an expectation. Help me wrap my mind around Your definition of love, and let Your approval of the love I show be the only reward I’m looking for.

Another thing I just realized in the area of score-keeping is a very insidious one. I was having a conversation with one of my closest friends the other day and we were talking about people doing things for each other, how it’s all just part of God’s economy. Sometimes one group of people have a little more money when others have less, so they can do some extra stuff for them. Or sometimes one person has access to certain resources, so they make them available for others to use. Sometimes one family has a little more free time, so they are able to do a little more for someone who’s schedule is a bit more hectic. It’s all cyclical too, so eventually the tide will turn a bit and the person who receives will be the giver, and the other way around. My friend happened to mention that it’s really hard not to keep score, not in the I-did-this-for-you-so-you-owe-me-that kind of way, but quite the opposite. More like the you-did-something-nice-for-me-so-I-need-to-make-sure-I-don’t-let-you-do-something-else-for-me-until-I-return-the-favor kind of way. Know what I mean? I never thought about this before, but I bet God doesn’t want us going around with an image of little tallies floating above other people’s heads, thinking so-and-so brought us dinner last month, so I have to do that for them soon. Or she has taken my kids a couple of days, I better offer to do the same or she’s going to think I’m a mooch. At the root of that thinking is actually a worry of what others think of us. It’s fretting about our reputation. God never said our love shouldn’t be extravagant, and I guess that would have to mean that the love we receive can be extravagant too. Now of course, when God’s spirit is working in us, we will naturally want to do things for others as well. But we won’t do it because we’re concerned for our reputation or because we’re plagued with guilt over keeping the score even. We’ll just love because it’s great to love. It’s the greatest.

I’m sure that’s not all I’ll learn about myself in this experiment, but it sure is a good start. I find it interesting what just a little focus can do.

How about you? How did you love this past week? I know some of you were also focused on the fruit of love in your own live this week. What did you find? If this is the first you’re hearing of this, think about your week. Reflecting back, how did you express love this week? What are some ways that others showed love to you? Where did you feel as if you were operating in the Holy Spirit? When did you fall short? I would love to hear your experiences, good or bad!

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves  another has fulfilled the law.

-Romans 13:8

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Cultivating: Love

Oh dear. This week has already opened up a big ol’ can of worms (by the way, where the heck did that phrase come from? Am I the only one who probably thinks it should be something more like “a can of maggots” or something?) Seriously, I think wayyyy too much about stuff sometimes. Anyhoooo….

This week I’ve been thinking about love. Not, (as I say to my students) the smoochy-smoochy kind of love, but the kind of love that is listed among the fruit of the spirit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.

                                                                                                                     -Galatians 5:22-23

As with anything we try to understand in the bible, the best way to get to the root of the meaning is to go back to the original language. Of course anything translated from one language to another will lose some of its meaning, and I feel that is especially true with this word, love. If you’ve ever been introduced to studying the bible, you know that there are lots of tools that some super smart people have published to help us dig back into the original languages of the scriptures, and even now we can use many online versions of these tools. No excuse for not studying, right? I mean, hey, we don’t have to go learning Hebrew or Greek ourselves. We get a big break with that stuff.

This verse above from Galatians was written in Greek, so going back through the Strong’s concordance (my best buddy as of late) I found the original word that was translated as love in this verse. Not surprisingly, it was agape (ahh-gahh-pay). Now, lots of people who’ve been around the bible for a little bit know that there are multiple words used for love in the original languages. Hebrew- and Greek-speaking folk didn’t just throw around the same ol’ word to say “I love tater tots” as they did “I love my wife” or “I love God.” No way, Jose! While we might use that word for many different applications having a variety of meanings, they had a different word for different types of love. For example, the word for intimate, sensual love would be eros. The word for friend/kinship kind of love would be phileo. But the word agape means a benevolent-care type of love. It’s the same word used when talking about God’s love for us. It is, in my view, the highest type of love one can express, because it’s completely outwardly-focused. So recipients of this letter in the church of Galatia read this, they knew that the very first piece of evidence (fruit) that they were expected to have as people of God was agape. Benevolent care for others.

What I’ve noticed is that, as Christians, we ebb and flow between loving people beautifully like Jesus did and failing miserably at this. I know I certainly do. I’m asking God to help me flow more toward seeing others the way he does so that I can love them like he does. I think an awful lot of time is wasted trying to figure out why someone acts the way they do or doesn’t like us or whatever, and not enough time asking God what we’re missing about that person so we can show them agape.

For me, some of the worms jumped outta the can when I realized that the agape word in this verse is very closely related to the word agapeo (also translated as love) in several other important verses. For example, that is the word used in Matthew 5 where Jesus is teaching and tells people that they should love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them (oddly enough, exactly the verses my pastor taught from on Sunday!) And also later in Matthew 22 when Jesus says:

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment.And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Whoa. Jesus sums it up for us right here. The GREATEST commandment is to love him like crazy. To agapeo him, which means to show welcome to, to be contented with, to show care for. Then right after that, we are supposed to love (show welcome to, to be contented with, to show care for) our neighbors as ourselves. I realized this means that in order to do that, I need to love (show welcome to, to be contented with, to show care for) myself in that way.

I’ll just go ahead and tell ya, sometimes if all I did was love my neighbors as I love myself, they’d be loved in a pretty crappy way. I’d neglect their needs, talk about them pretty poorly, and generally show disdain for them.

My friends, I must confess that this is often how I regard myself, and God is showing me (even if I don’t feel like seeing it) that the first fruit of the spirit, love, begins with loving him, and flows into loving myself and into loving others. Hmmm. So I have to have a right view of myself before I can rightly love others?? Jesus, you blow my mind.

As far as the fruits of the spirit go, I kinda thought this love thing was going to be one of the easier ones (patience, not so much!) But this may very well be one of the hardest lessons I’ll ever endeavor to learn.

Can’t I just stuff those worms back in the can right about now?