Learning to Love Like Jesus
One of the most difficult things to do as a follower of Jesus is to follow Jesus.
Because following Jesus means that we surrender something of ourselves to become more like the One we say we are following. And to do this well is something that we all struggle to do in our own way.
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of following Jesus (and the one that probably trips us up) is learning to love others in the way Jesus commanded his followers to love.
In Luke's Gospel, Jesus put it like this:
27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
This is exactly what Jesus did. He even prayed for the forgiveness of the very people who crucified him and treated him with unbelievable cruelty.
And the kind of love that we are talking about here is the kind that gives without expecting anything in return. It's the kind that heals wounds and bridges divisions. It's the kind that can change the world if we embrace it and learn to share it.
I also am fully aware of my own shortcomings when it comes to this kind of love. Sometimes, it seems easier just to focus on myself, to guard my heart against being wounded.
This is why this quote from Ilia Delo was so impactful to me when I read it recently:
We long for oneness of heart, mind and soul, but we fear the demands of unity. Sometimes I think we choose to be alone because it is safe. To be comfortable in our isolation is our greatest poverty.
Truly, many of us live like this. We close off the world around us because it feels unsafe. We hide our hearts for fear of them being broken. Delo calls this guardedness out as our "greatest poverty."
And then she went on to say this:
Recognizing our relatedness creates space within us that we wouldn’t otherwise find, and opens a deeper capacity to love: Love is stronger than death and the heart that no longer fears death is truly free.
When we no longer fear death---the death of dreams, the death of hope, the death of all that we once held on to feel safe and secure---we learn what it means to truly love and to live.
The vulnerability of loving others, as Jesus taught us to love, is an act of extreme vulnerability. We open ourselves up for pain, betrayal, and rejection. But it is within the vulnerability of loving that we discover who we really are.
Shakespeare once wrote, "If thou canst not recall the slightest folly that Love ere did make thee run to, thou hast not loved."
Vulnerability and the surrender that precedes it is the key to loving like Jesus.
And there will be times when we will feel the sting of not having our love returned. We might also have to swallow our pride and our desire to strike back when we are struck.
Following Jesus into the vulnerability and humility of loving fully is an incredibly hard thing to do. Still, if we learn how to do it with a heart-forward way of living, we will find the abundant life Jesus promised his followers.
If we want to see the world around us made right, we have to become the loving agents of change that we desire. We have to become the answers to our own prayers when it comes to peace, unity, and connection.
Then, we, too, will be transformed as we inch closer to becoming the people God longs for us to be.
May it be so, and may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us now and always. Amen.