“I am writing to remind you, dear friends, that we should love one another…”
(2 John 5)
“…see to it that you really do love each other intensely with all your hearts.”
(1 Peter 1:22)
Over and over and over, God’s Word gives this instruction: “love one another.” It’s the second most important thing we’re given to do with our entire lives.
But I think I actually live more in terms of “be nice.” I put all sorts of effort into my outward interactions with people, but tend to be careless with my heart attitudes toward them. In fact, I often don’t recognize that my heart attitudes are TOWARD anyone at all.
Here’s the hard truth: My heart attitudes are not isolated. They never only affect me. They are always toward someone, and they always flow outward: into my body language, into my actions, into my words. Hidden attitudes don’t stay hidden.
When I grow frustrated over what I don’t have in comparison to someone else, I am not only sowing discontent in my own heart, I am placing myself in a rivalry with and nurturing hostility toward another person because they have enjoyed an advantage. When I grow exasperated because someone is making me wait, I am not only giving into impatience, I am giving into the lie that the person I am waiting for is not worth it. And the hostility will surface. And the irritation will surface.
Whether I intend it to or not, the attitude my heart adopts toward other people will flow outward.
So I have been asking the Lord to help me identify when I am handling another person in an unloving way, even if it’s only within my own heart. I reviewed 1 Corinthians 13 with the filter of “how does this look at the thought level?”, and came up with this list of How Not to Love:
I am NOT loving another person when I:
- allow my heart to see them as a rival
- refuse to celebrate when they have been given something good
- become irritated and impatient with them because I have let their pace fuel my worry
- remember, revisit, and rehearse how they have been hurtful to me
- nurture expectations of how they will care for, pour into, or benefit me
How beautiful it would be to notice something better in another person’s life and feel zero negative emotions about it, because I finally get that it has nothing to do with what I have or don’t have. It has everything to do with whether I love the other person or not. And love celebrates the joys of others, so love is not jealous.
When I rehearse what has been hurtful, I have become the one that hurts. And love knows the record only does more damage, so love keeps no record of wrong.
My exasperation has little to do with what time it is, and much to do with whether I value the person I am waiting for. And love places immense value on others, so love is patient.
As I step into a room and gauge my expectations, I often find that I am greedy for the attention, energy, and care of the people standing in it, even when I thought I came with the best intentions. When I lean forward in expectation or lean away and lick my wounds, I am not loving them. When love leans, it leans in offering, because love does not seek its own.
If this is love, I don’t love very many people at all. I’m nice to them outwardly, but I do not love them.
But if I could learn this love, how free I would be!
If this is how I handled people internally, I wouldn’t have to think very hard about how to interact with them on the outside. If I made the hard choice to love them with the thoughts of my heart, it would flow outward. And my joy would not be slave to what other people have or how other people handle me.
Even when you are wronged and treated as unimportant, your love forgives so easily and freely. It is generous; it is gentle; it does not demand attention. It is a beautiful thing to behold.
Teach me to learn this love. Help me to see how thoroughly you cherish me, so that I find my soul settled, for it knows it does not have to chase after how other people see me or treat me.
May I shrug off my slavery to what other people have and what other people do, carefully tend to the attitudes of my own heart, and little by little, start to understand what it means to love one another from the inside out.