Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Loving the Un-Lovable (My Family)

What is love?  Where does it come from?  How do I get some more?

These are all the questions that have been running around in my head for the past few days.  I stumbled across another blogger's posting about an interaction she had with her child.  This mother, in a moment of intense frustration (when her child was acting quite "unlovable"),  simply knelt down and held her child close with an incredible outpouring of grace and acceptance.  I found tears coming to my eyes as I read this, picturing one of my own youngsters in the many moments of chaotic, anger-inducing behavior - and realized how often I lack a loving, gracious response toward them.

I also set myself up for some serious soul-searching this past weekend, after reading a biography about Mother Teresa.  I read it all in one sitting; just amazed at the incredible love of Jesus that poured through that woman.  She stretched her hand out to the dirty, broken, lost, forgotten and rejected, and embraced them with an acceptance and love as if she was ministering to the Lord Jesus, in living flesh.  Her whole life was poured out as a gift to the Lord, a true example of "pure and undefiled religion" from James 1:27 as she ministered to "widows and orphans in their trouble".

How incredible, I thought, it would be to have a chance to pour out the love of God to the most needy and broken.  In fact, I will soon be presented with that opportunity as I travel to India later this year on mission trip.  My heart breaks with the knowledge of the suffering that afflicts so many children worldwide - never to have the comforts of clean clothes, a warm bed and a full tummy - let alone someone who loves them and tells them: "You are valuable."

In the middle of my pondering, however, I was convicted to think of how I relate to my own family.  I have been struggling recently with feeling a lack of love for my kids and husband.  I mean, I know that I love them and I would do anything for them, but when it comes to the little, every day situations, I don't always act in a loving way.  This made me think of the words of Jesus in Matthew 25: 35-40
For I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in;  I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.'  Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You?  Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?'  And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.'
I had to be honest with myself, and acknowledge that my family; my husband and kids, also qualify as "the least of these".   If I am admonished to show love and care to strangers, how much more love should I show to my relatives?  Just because I am so familiar with them and see them every single day when they are grumpy, tired, dirty and annoying - doesn't mean that they are exempt from being treated graciously.

One of the problems I have, and I hope I'm not the only one - is that it seems so NOBLE and virtuous to minister to the poor, needy children on the other side of the world.  There is something exotic about the entire experience because it is so far removed from our normal, everyday lives.  Yet, loving our own - our family, and even our next-door neighbors - is a tremendous effort.

A face only a mother could love...
There's something extremely difficult about speaking kindly and graciously to someone who continually makes noise - loud, obnoxious, repetitive noise - all day long, in the comfort of your home.  It's hard to love the child who spilled sugar all over the floor - again - when they shouldn't even have gotten into the sugar in the first place.  It's hard to love the snot-crusted baby who just pooped for the 6th time that day, and has oatmeal paste sticking in the folds of his neck AND just dumped another roll of toilet paper into the toilet.  (Yes, that sort of stuff does happen to me!)  It's also hard to love your spouse when life is busy and you have endless tasks to take care of, and little energy left at the end of the day to speak sweet words and dedicate moments to encouraging them when it feels like you're about to fall apart yourself.

Now I will set out to answer the questions posed at the beginning of this blog posting.  First: What is love?  Certainly it is not a feeling.  Love can be supported by feelings and it can be characterized by how you feel about someone - but love has a lot more to do with action and choice than our up and down, fickle emotional state.   Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.   (1 Cor. 13)

My second question concerning love was:  Where does it come from?  I can answer that with another passage from the Bible. 1 John 4:7,8 says: Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This all ties in with the final question I posed: How do I get some more?  We all long to be loved and accepted.  We all have yearning in our hearts for real love that lasts and does not hold us to our faults.  As I read about Mother Teresa and wondered what her secret was for being so amazing and loving, I was not at all surprised to find that she often emphasized the importance of early morning prayer.  She said that it would be impossible to go out and minister to, and help others, without first being filled.  

It is so "easy" to live by a set of rules and establish for ourselves a religious mindset that we adhere to.  It is quite another thing altogether, to practice engaging in relationship with God.  I love not, because I lack a knowledge of God and His love.  I keep myself too busy - albeit, busy with noble, 'godly' tasks, that leave me lacking in the one thing I need most: Love.  If I really want to be a more loving person, and be a blessing to the "unlovable" people who challenge me day after day with their imperfections,  I must fill up on true love myself.  

It's not always easy to show real, unconditional love to the people closest to you in life.  Additionally, I would argue that it is next to impossible to accomplish this without the love of God dwelling in your heart.  We aren't meant to exist on our own strength of will or on the idea of being noble and virtuous.  We exist to be loved, and then to love.  All it takes is opening the door of your heart to God's kind of love, and allowing Him to come in and fill you.

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