I’ve been thinking a lot about love lately. Not romance, but the kind of love we are all supposed to have for one another. Sacrificial love. Neighborly love. Compassionate love. Strangely, at the very same time I’ve been pondering the importance of love, I have simultaneously been dismissing my own need for it.
What I have been telling myself lately:
“I should love my students better.”
This has been a mantra of mine in recent weeks. So I’ve been making more of an effort to be fully present, even during break time. I’ve been choosing to listen to the stories my students tell me, even if I can’t understand what they are saying, even if they are complaining about the same things they always complain about. When students push my buttons, I’ve been making more of an effort not to lash out at them (with mixed success).
“I should spend more time with people.”
As an introvert, I can get irrationally excited at the thought of being alone. After a long day of work, I can’t wait to lie in bed and watch TV. Alone. When I realize I have a free morning to read the Bible, study Korean, play piano, exercise, or do whatever other projects or solo activities come to mind, I can literally have trouble falling asleep because I am filled with so much anticipation.
But lately, I have been making an effort to resist this default. I have been intentional in scheduling dates with people, in catching up, in checking up on important people in my life. It’s been good. I do enjoy that stuff too. But sometimes I have felt like I am guilt-tripping myself into being something I simply wasn’t designed for.
“I feel like a failure.”
This has been a major result of all my recents efforts to love. Amidst some truly beautiful, rewarding moments, I have gotten tired, I have lost my patience, I have felt unappreciated, I have felt out of control, and most of all, I haven’t been fully convinced that my efforts have been worth it.
This has caused great tension inside of me, because I know loving others is supposed to be worth it.
What God has been telling me:
I LOVE YOU.
God says it a bit more eloquently than that, but sometimes it’s hard to put what God says into human words.
The other day at work, I felt not great––in fact, I felt terrible. I was fighting a cold, my body was aching, and I had zero energy. So I decided to walk over to the convenience store next to my work to try to find some throat lozenges. I didn’t find the ones I wanted, but I did look up and realize it was a beautiful day outside. And I did feel God’s presence with me.
It was such a simple thing, an uneventful moment, but I felt God walking beside me, enjoying the day with me. I felt God’s hand tenderly grasping mine. And then I heard God say, I know how much you like affection. I know how much you want it. I have more than enough affection to fill up all of the desire in your heart.
Again, human words fall short, but that was the gist of it.
That one word from God got me through the rest of day much more effectively than any throat lozenge or magic pill could have.
I WANT TO POUR MY AFFECTION ON YOU.
Awhile back, a friend prayed over me, “You have a big capacity to receive love.” I took that as a polite way of saying I was needy. What I heard was: “You need a lot of love.”
I’ve always known this about myself and generally not liked it. I’ve thought of myself as someone who is never satisfied with the love she is given, someone who would burden those around her if she didn’t hide the magnitude of how much she wants to be loved. My desire for affection has felt like weakness. People talk about love languages––gifts, acts of service, quality time, etc. I’ve realized the avenue of love I couldn’t live without is affection. Physical affection. Eye contact. Simple, frivolous acts of tenderness. And that seems like a particularly foolish thing to expect of people.
But as I’ve been thinking about God’s affection toward me, I’ve realized: Affection is beautiful precisely because it is frivolous.
I LOVE BEING WITH YOU.
Sometimes the picture I have gotten of love (especially in religious contexts) is duty. Feelings don’t matter, only action. So, dutifully cleaning the dishes your spouse/roommate asked you to clean even though you don’t want to is loving. I suppose that could be a form of love. But that could also be considered mere human decency or personal responsibility.
To me, duty isn’t enough.
Love is the extra stuff you don’t have to do. It’s taking the time to listen to someone’s stupid joke and laugh with them. It’s that fond look or affectionate touch. It’s making someone’s favorite food or noticing their new outfit. Those things aren’t required.
What I hunger for isn’t for someone to fulfill their responsibility toward me, I hunger to be loved.
YOU ARE SO BEAUTIFUL TO ME.
Thinking back over the last few weeks, during which I served at two church retreats and had many spiritual encounters, conversations, and breakthroughs, I realized one of the best moments was that uneventful walk to the convenience store when God reached down and gave me what I didn’t even know I needed: a bit of affection.
Other moments were much more dramatic, emotional, and profound. But I felt most loved when God wasn’t using me to do anything useful, when nothing particularly important was happening, yet He chose to spend time with me anyway.
I HAVE MORE THAN ENOUGH LOVE FOR YOU.
Slowly I’m realizing that God doesn’t see me as needy. He legitimately sees my “huge capacity to be loved” as beautiful, because He gets to give more love to me. Hard as it is for me to comprehend, getting to give me more love genuinely makes God happy.
The more I’m able to wrap my mind around that, the better I am able to love those around me. Not because someone told me I have to. That pretty much ruins the whole thing. But because God has shown me how. Because God has shown me that this is the best thing. Because when I have that best thing, I can’t help but want to share it.