By Steve Wyatt
There’s a war going on inside me, a fight that’s been raging for a long, long time. Sometimes I think I’m winning this battle; other times I feel like waving the white flag. There are days when I think I have my nemesis on the ropes; but other days I’m retreating as fast as my legs can carry me.
The Struggle to Be Loving
What’s the nature of this battle I’m waging? It’s the struggle to be a loving person. Love is the first and second greatest of the commands (Matthew 22:37-39). I am to love God (which is, at times, a challenge for me) and my neighbor as myself (which is always a challenge for me). And if that weren’t difficult enough, Jesus also said that I’m supposed to “love my enemies!” (Luke 6:27).
And that is my battle.
Oh, I want to be a man of love. But when circumstance dictates that I need to love people (especially people who don’t like me or who aren’t like me), and when that call to love means I must treat people as though their needs were more significant, their hopes and dreams more substantial than even my own dreams? That’s when a civil war erupts inside me.
Let’s be real: loving a God who is perfect is hard enough for a jerk like me. And to love someone with whom I share affinity is even harder (though attainable). But when I’m supposed to love someone who hates me? who has hurt me? who has exchanged blows with me? How do I do that?
No one except God is perfect. If I choose to be a loving person, I’d better get prepared to love flawed people. All of us disappoint each other almost as much as we disappoint ourselves.
I hate to break it to you, but Cliff and Clair Huxtable were just acting. Barbie and Ken—they’re just plastic. To “follow the way of love,” as Paul put it (1 Corinthians 14:1), you’d better be packing some stain stick. Because you’re going to have to love some places in a person’s life that just don’t pass the smell test.
When love is real, you must be prepared to live with and cover over others’ flaws. Covering doesn’t mean that you aren’t aware of them; but that your commitment to love is so strong it blankets over even the most mangled parts—kind of like an insurance policy covers the driver who made a driving decision even a Power Wheels toddler knows not to make.
Are You In or Out?
I’ve learned that when I’m really struggling with this love thing, the reason usually has to do with my lack of forgiveness. Colossians 3:13 says, “Forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” But forgiving “as the Lord” does is painfully difficult. Yet how can I love anyone fully and at the same time resent someone else? I can’t! I can’t fully love my wife if I’m ticked at my mom. I can’t love my kids if I’m bitter toward my sister.
I cannot fully love if my heart is divided. And a bitter, unforgiving heart is a divided heart. Is this where you battle?
• You once loved your spouse, but now you’re not so sure. Could it be that you have a divided heart?
• You made a sinful decision—and still haven’t forgiven yourself.
• You’re angry because someone in your past hurt you—but as you harbor that resentment against him, could it be keeping you from fully loving someone else?
Maybe your anger is justified because your past is one long rap sheet of abuse and misplaced trust and broken promises. Just know: If you never let go of your past, you’ll never get on with the present.
How? Forgive those who have hurt you—even if they are still hurting you. Do it for your own sake, whether they deserve it or not. The only way people from your past can keep hurting you is if you allow them to hurt you by holding on to resentment for what they did.
Think of it this way: When you resent someone, you give him a piece of your heart. But do you really want him to have that piece? No? Then take it back—and make your heart whole again by forgiving.
Do Before You Feel
If you base your life on feelings, then when that inevitable tragedy happens—when the car breaks down, when your son throws up on your new couch, when the roof leaks; or worse, when a family member gets cancer and dies—what’s going to hold love in place?
True love is an irrepressible determination to keep the covenant alive—regardless of the circumstances or the feelings.
The test of your love for God isn’t what you do when you’re feeling in love with him. It’s how you live when you don’t feel anything for him at all.
The Bible clearly teaches that the way we think will determine the way we feel. When you’re disappointed by someone, you can’t just turn off that disappointment. But you can change the way you think about her. And if you’ll just stop thinking about her faults and instead start thinking about her needs, it’ll change the way you feel.
It’s an axiom of life that is invariably true: The way you think determines the way you feel and the way you feel determines the way you act. So if you want to change your actions—if you want to become the loving person you know God wants you to be—then change the way you think.
Sometimes you know what you should do, but it makes you want to hurl just thinking about it. Here’s what I’ve discovered: You won’t feel it till you do it.
I strongly believe that if you choose to do acts of love (even when you don’t feel the love), those feelings will return. Eventually the cycle will complete itself. However, if you wait for the feelings before you do anything, you’ll never do anything—and the relationship will die. (I’m not smart enough to come up with something that brilliant.
C. S. Lewis wrote about it in his book, Mere Christianity.)
He First Loved Us
Are you finding it hard to love someone? To forgive and respond generously to an adversary who has hurt you? Pat Benatar sang it best: “Love is a battlefield.”
The first step in the battle to become more loving is not focusing your efforts on others—it’s about putting your attentions on God. After all, how can you give away something you don’t have? You can only give love by first receiving love. Remember, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
Want to be more loving? Begin by embracing that you are dearly loved by God—even when you were trapped in sin and nothing about you was winsome.
Want to learn how to more fully forgive? Consider how God forgives you.
If you’re feeling kind of low on love, maybe you’re trying to give something you’ve never fully received. So stop the fight and remember: God loves you. Personally. Powerfully. Patiently. And his love toward you can fill your heart with a love that is worth sharing.
Steve Wyatt is a minister and freelance writer in New River, Arizona.