Over the past several days, there has been one thing on my mind more than anything else. That thing is love.
I have been praying, asking God to increase my capacity to love others, but in praying this I have also been trying to figure out how to partner with God in that process. How can I help increase my capacity to love?
In meditating on this one thing, I have come to a conclusion: In order for my love capacity to increase, I must love myself more. If I do not love myself more, then I will not love others more.
To understand this, we must start at the beginning. We love because God first loved us. Our account of love is bankrupt until God makes a deposit from His heart into ours, and only then do we have the capacity to love. Curiously, this love most often does not come directly from Him, as He chooses to use couriers like you and me, parents, friends, family members, and even nature to express His love (why do you think we love our pets?).
Once we have received His love, then the most normal thing to do is to love others. If we were raised by caring parents, then chances are we will be caring as well. Or, conversely, if we were raised by abusive parents, then without loving help from another source, we will likely be abusive as well. The point is that we will repeat what we have received.
Eventually, though, love gets hard. Not everyone is lovable, after all, and even the closest of relationships can be trying. Here is where the question of self-sacrificing love comes into the picture. Religious duty would have us bite the bullet, humble ourselves, and serve the other person no matter how difficult, painful, or costly it might be. And let me be clear, nothing is wrong with these kinds of actions! It is the example Jesus gave us to follow.
However, the question is the condition of our heart when we take these actions. If we only repeat actions that were demonstrated towards us, or go beyond them in self-sacrifice out of religious duty, then we will bankrupt ourselves internally. Loving out of duty means loving because you know you are supposed to (the Bible or the pastor told you to), but not necessarily because the love is actually inside you of to give. And when you love others in this way, out of religious obligation yet without love in your heart, then you will begin to despise the sacrifices you feel forced to make.
On the other hand, if the first step you take when others love you is to recognize that you are loved, then you can’t help but feel good about yourself. This is not in an unhealthy way – the opposite of self-loathing and depression is not pride – rather it is in a way that actually fills the desire for love in your heart. Then, when you know that you are loved, and when you are able to love yourself because you now see yourself as lovable, then you will be able to love others out of the fullness of your heart. Then your love will be genuine. Then your love will be unselfish, expecting no return. Then you will know that you are accepted already, and you will not fear the rejection of those difficult people whom you are called to love.
Loving others begins with loving ourselves. After all, Jesus said, “Love others as you love yourselves,” and somehow, I don’t think He told us to do something that He wasn’t already doing Himself.
Jesus loved Himself, and so He loved us. We are merely doing the same.