Learning to Love
by Megan Davis
One Sunday evening, my husband and I had an interesting conversation with our 2-year-old daughter, Kiley, while driving home from church. It went something like this:
Me: “Does Kiley love Mommy?”
Husband: “Does Kiley love Daddy?”
(We continued through a long list of relatives, nursery “friends,” and favorite toys. The answer was always the same—“No.”)
Me: “Does Kiley love Kiley?”
Her answer made me laugh at the time. Later, as I reflected on the conversation, I realized that Kiley’s answer was a true reflection of her heart condition—and the heart condition of all of us. We probably wouldn’t readily admit it, but we are incredibly selfish creatures. We are in love with ourselves.
Loving others can be difficult work. Perhaps that is why the older women in the church are instructed to teach the younger women to love their husbands and their children (Titus 2). It can be hard to love your children after 2 hours of sleep, constant messes, and multiple acts of disobedience. You may not feel like loving your husband when you are bone-weary from caring for children all day. And it can be especially hard to love those who criticize you for your choice to homeschool.
The Bible has a lot to say about love. We find in Galatians 5 that it is a fruit of the Spirit—a manifestation of the believer’s growth in the Lord. In John 13:35, we see that it is the defining trait of the followers of Christ. And when questioned by the Pharisees, Jesus said that the entirety of the Law and work of the prophets center on two commands: loving God with the entirety of our beings and loving our neighbors as ourselves (Mathew 22:37–40). In fact, Christ even commanded that we love our enemies (a tall order!).
However, love has been redefined by our culture. Love has become synonymous with indulgence—if you do things at odds with someone’s immediate comfort, allow consequences for wrong actions, or don’t exercise constant tolerance, you don’t really love. Today’s love is a tyrant. Is this the love Christ commanded us to exercise?
If you look up love in the dictionary, the noun form is listed first—“to have a strong affection or liking for.” But if you continue on to the definition of love as a verb, it becomes something you must do, an action you take—“to cherish or hold dear.” Love becomes a choice you can make, even when everything you may feel is rising up in mutiny within you. This is the action love that Christ commands us to live out daily toward each other. This is the love that can be learned. And this is the love that can be demonstrated in no greater way than for a man to “lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Christ lived, died, and resurrected to show this very love for us.
So how can we grow in that love and live it out—especially when we don’t always feel it? It all begins with getting to know God. How can we hope to love Him if we don’t know Him? We have to saturate ourselves with God’s Word and study His love letter to discover what pleases and grieves Him, how He shows His love for us, and how we can show that we love Him in return. And as we begin to truly grasp who God is and what He has done for us, we will start seeing ourselves more clearly—as sinners saved by grace. The full weight of “for God so loved the world” will take on a more tangible reality when we begin to realize that you and I are no more deserving of God’s grace than the rude grocery-store cashier or the homeless man on the street corner.
When we’re struggling to love, we also have a life-line in prayer—direct access to our Father God who is Love Himself. Christ told us that if we ask in accordance with the Father’s will, He will grant us our requests (1 John 5:14). So when we ask the Lord to transform our self-centered, selfish hearts into hearts of love and compassion, we can be sure that He delights in saying yes! It may be a prayer that we have to pray multiple times a day—while cleaning up the canister of oatmeal the toddler emptied onto the floor, while stuck in traffic during an already-too-busy day, when correcting a disobedient child for the same offense the fourth and fifth time. But it’s a prayer that our Father will always answer affirmatively. After all, God delights in showing His love to us. How much more must it please Him to enable us to show His love to others?