I’m a redeemed narcissist. I like to stand in front of people and have their attention… so that I can talk about God. I’m one of those weird people who enjoy public speaking.
I spoke in May at our church about love. It’s a centering concept for me. It’s helpful to have a grounding thought when life begins to feel as if it consists of urgent nonsense.
My insufficient grasp of love became undeniable to me one day as I found myself writing a letter to a heartbroken friend of mine and I wanted to tell her that I loved her (as if that might fix something—old narcissist ways die hard). I sat there staring at the paper, wanting to tell her why I loved her, and all I could think of were reasons that gratified me. (“You are generous with me, you are kind to me”, and so on). Yet I didn’t want to send the message that in order for me to love her, she needed to be those things—especially to me. I did love her, but what did that mean?
I was further convicted when one night, while putting my girls to bed, was telling my girls why I loved them and I was saying things like: you’re fun, you’re beautiful, you’re smart, kind… But did they have to be those things in order for me to love them? What if they didn’t possess any of those things?
My understanding of love felt conditional and self-serving because my reasons for having it were. I knew that was wrong, or at least wildly incomplete, but I didn’t know what a right definition was. I wrestled with this for months.
Then, one day I realized the unchanging factual basis of my love for my daughters is this: They belong to me. This is why I love them: They are mine. It’s not what they did, it’s not a reward—they didn’t earn it. No, my love for them is based on the fact of our irrevocable oneness. And the presence or lack of squishy or warm feelings neither denies nor confirms nor excludes the presence of love.
Love is oneness. Love looks like committed unity. This is my mechanical, non-emotional, nuts-and-bolts definition of Love. I love my girls because together, we are one. They belong to me and I belong to them, and it is not based on mutual reciprocity or worthiness or adorable qualities. It is not fickle or conditional; it simply IS, as a result of their existence.
As I learned in a Young Marrieds class, love is a commitment, not a feeling. And thanks to Corinthians 13, I know that love is patient and kind and does not seek its own way. But there was more, so much more to learn about love, so I studied the Bible to see what it had to say about love. Here is what I’ve learned so far:
- Love is Sacrificial: 1 John 4:10 – “This is love; not that we have loved God, but that He sent an atoning sacrifice for our sins”. Love absorbs debt. It rises for the sake of relationship. Love lays down the desire for individual greatness for the sake of forever-unity. (Big side note: There are all kinds of ways that we humans have corrupted and have been damaged by attempts (or lack thereof) of sacrificial love. Somewhere out there, is a perfect Christ model of sacrificial love which doesn’t ignore destructive behavior, but somehow releases the person from eternal condemnation).
- Love is God: 1 John 4:8 – “God is Love”. Here’s a fun experiment—if God is love, try swapping out the word “love” with the word “God” in some of our favorite love verses. For example: 1 Corinthians 3:2-3 “…if I have faith that can move mountains, and sacrifice all I have for the poor and needy but do not have… GOD… I will gain nothing.” Or, James 2:8 “Love your neighbor as yourself” becomes “Be Christ to yourself and also to your neighbor”. Which is to be gracious, edifying, humble… both yourself and to others
- Love is verb. Love is the moving toward oneness. Consider the antonym: hate. Just as with love, hate may or may not involve emotions, but if love is the act of creating oneness, then hate is a “conscious uncoupling” (thank you for that phraseology, Gwyneth) as well as final separation. Consider in Luke 14:26 where it says “If you do not hate your mother and father, you cannot be my disciple”. This is not imploring us to feel bitterness and animosity toward our parents, but rather to be wholly undivided unto Christ first. Love is a conscious working toward oneness.
- Love knows God: Do we know God or do we just know about Him? Oswald Chambers says “If we become advocates of a belief of God without knowing God for ourselves, then we only believe our belief about Him”. Here’s why that’s important about love. Do we know what love is? Whatever our understanding of love is, that is our expectation and projection on to others of it as well. For example, do we believe that if we act rightly, we ought to be loved? Or do we believe that we are not worth of love unless we are perfect? If this is the love we know—the God we know—then we will likely, unknowingly project this onto others, and also accept God’s love of us within this sort of merit-framework. But if we know a God who is unlimited, generous, humble and gracious, then we will love in this way too—in a way that is not rigid or self-serving or demanding.
- Love is our Witness: John 13:35 – “By this all will know that you are my disciples: if you have love for one another.” Love is the expression, the testament and our witness to the truth of who God is. Not personal virtue by way of admirable achievements or a spotless record.
- Love is the whole point: John 17:22. It’s interesting, don’t you think, the last corporate prayer of Christ. Aren’t you curious as to what Jesus would say—how He would pray—what final words He would leave us with, especially knowing that it was His last time with his disciples and he would soon be killed? In my opinion, Christ leaves us with the whole point of everything in this prayer. He states the definition of eternal life is: knowing God. He does not ask that His disciples be removed from the world, (because love can rescue us regardless of our circumstance). And then, right there, hidden for thousands of years right in front of us, is the point of it all: So that we all may be one with each other, just as Christ is one with the father, and that we will be within the bonds of Christ and the Father. Read the John 17:20-26.
Love—oneness—with all, through oneness with the Father is the final eventuality. It is the means, the end and the whole point of everything. It is the desire and the will of the Father, whose will, WILL be done. Oneness with each other in Christ is the only safe thing to hope in because it is the only real guarantee.
I do not know if my girls will reach the height of personal success, or not get into a car accident, or marry someone I approve of. And I hope that they stay kind and fun and sweet. I hope all of these things and will pray for these things, but at the end of the day, love persists regardless.
Whatever we are one with will be our virtue and our condemner. But there is no condemnation in the love of Christ—a love which holds no record of wrong. Oneness with Him is our virtue, our validation and our fulfillment. Love Him first, and these things (validation, fulfillment, and more) will be added.
When we see the will of God for what it really is (eternal love/oneness with us), we see how abundantly He provides for it. Remember Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid? Did he really want his fence painted or his car waxed? No, he was training Ralph Maccio for success in the ultimate ring. In this same way, love and acts of love transform us into people familiar with the movements of eternal life: sacrifice, a belonging, and humility. He provides for our coming to our own end, which awakens a need in us to unite with something bigger.
If you are not being charged by “likes” from the world, and instead find yourself at the end of the day humbled and needing Christ—CONGRATULATIONS!! You are the winner. You are being nurtured toward the whole point: humbled oneness with Christ—or, love.
We are loved. We didn’t earn it and we can’t un-earn it. It’s not based on my adorable qualities or lack thereof. It isn’t based on my goodness at all. Love is this: belonging, oneness—specifically oneness with Christ who is in and through all things. The more fully we can align and immerse in this, the more fully in love we are.