“….and the greatest of these is LOVE”
Does that fill you with celebration or does it make you feel a little uncomfortable, or both?
God loving us more than we can comprehend is mind blowing and repeated in the bible. Some seem to happily accept they are an unconditionally loved child of God though for others it can be a struggle. For a range of reasons, including abuse, some can feel unworthy of God’s love (and sometimes also the love of others), some may feel unable to trust love, some may feel they have to earn love, some may doubt something that sounds so good and amazing can actually be true. If any of these apply to you, I echo the truth: you are loved more than you can know. Immersing yourself in passages like Psalms 139 and Romans 8 v37-39 may help you, praying specifically for that realisation / trust / confidence and also accessing counselling may be helpful too.
What about us loving others though? God calling us to love others may leave us feeling uncomfortable – it’s a pretty big challenge by itself though some misunderstandings of what loving others actually is may be part of the problem. I REALLY struggled with this instruction in relation to an individual who had been repeatedly abusive and threatening. I felt ‘loving’ this person who had consistently caused damage to others and myself was nearly impossible. Feeling so challenged by the impossible task of loving this individual I embarked on a journey of study, prayer, research, asking questions and listening a lot.
Firstly I fully realised and accepted the concept of love I had grown up with (along with many in the Western world) was based on a feeling and it appeared to be an uncontrollable force people had little to no power over… spoiler alert: not true! I had thought I had to at least like someone to even start to love them and if I didn’t have that soft and fluffy feeling I wasn’t loving someone properly. I also thought it was something I could try to do but had little power over it happening. To cut a long story short, alongside my research and thanks to others sharing parts of their lives and struggles with me, I fully accepted that LOVE is a CHOICE and you don’t have to LIKE someone to LOVE them.
I had read in Matthew 5 v44 the instruction ‘love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’, I’ll be honest, it made me very uncomfortable and I really didn’t want to do it but I tried and prayed for them obediently and I’m really pleased I did. Making the choice to try to love someone who had (and still was) causing significant harm was difficult. Praying for them helped and I asked God to help me love them. The misplaced guilt of not actually liking them and struggling with the suffering they were causing (mine included) vanished because I was actively making a choice to be loving towards them, I was praying for them and slowly healing was taking place. Did loving them look like being physically and mentally / emotionally present for them? I always thought it HAD to with my old understanding of love though the answer in this situation was no. The repeated abusive dynamic of the relationship meant that wasn’t appropriate, boundaries were needed and important. Boundaries meant I could effectively ‘love’ this individual without the cycle of abuse continuing. Sadly through, misunderstandings about love and forgiveness alongside a lack of awareness, the necessary protections for these sorts of situations have often not been encouraged in Christian circles, sometimes strongly discouraged with tragic consequences.