Have I Forgotten How to Love Others?
How do I know when I have lost sight of loving others?
In conversations with friends, I plan my next sentence rather than truly listening.
Being with my kids starts to feel like an annoyance or a burden. I find myself managing their time to keep them occupied rather than choosing to engage with them.
I catch myself filtering my daily interactions through a lens of how I can accomplish my goals, rather than what I can offer.
My screen time hours inch upwards on my weekly phone usage report.
Some would label this kind of behaviour as living from your false self, as opposed to your true self-- that part of you that is most essential and real, that part of you where God is present to you.
Can you relate? We all struggle with living half-heartedly rather than wholeheartedly, with being fully present to those around us. How can we offer deep presence to others out of that presence of Christ in us?
The Bible has some really tangible stuff to say about this. Our primary model is Jesus. Two succinct statements can summarize Jesus’ entire teaching:
Abide in Me (My love)
Love God and love others
For #1, let’s take a quick dive into John 15:9-12 (NAS).
Just as the Father has loved Me,
I have also loved you;
abide in My love.
If you keep My commandments,
you will abide in My love;
just as I have kept My Father’s
and abide in His love.
These things I have spoken to you
so that My joy may be in you,
and that your joy may be made full.
This is My commandment,
that you love one another,
just as I have loved you.
(This is my favourite passage ever...just saying.)
Abide in my love. Abide can mean to stay, to remain, to dwell. Make your home in my love.
How? There is a flow, from the Father’s love to Jesus to us, and that love enables us. We also have an active role to play. Verses 10 and 12 lay it out, this is how: love one another.
Why? To experience full joy (verse 11).
Point #2 (love God, love others) stems from the famous passage in Mark 12:28-30 where Jesus gives His own retake on the ancient creed of Judaism, the Hebrew Shema. Jesus says that the most important commandment boils down to loving God and loving your neighbour.
Ok, ok, so I know loving others is pretty crucial and I know in my head how to love others. Anyone can draw up a list:
Be fully present
Prioritize time with others in your schedule
But, do I know it in my heart? When I really know something in my heart and it has become a part of my core, it wells up out of me without me having to strive for it.
The key, I am learning, is the abide part of the equation. At least that is where I am at right now. Jesus loving me comes first. My abiding in that and resulting ability to love God and others comes second. The one produces the other. We get it...cognitively. Many of us have heard this theology from the pulpit for years. But the actual practicalities of how can still stump us.
How am I practicing abiding right now? What’s working for me?
Christian contemplative practices, especially centering prayer.
How do I know it’s working?
In conversations with friends, I feel the love of Jesus welling up in me. I feel a deep compassion and the lightness of gratitude.
I suddenly have the discipline to close the computer, leave my task at hand unfinished, and be present to really listen and really play with my kids. And it is a delight!
I catch myself viewing my interactions with a me-focussed lens and consciously change my posture, without self-condemnation.
I want to look at my phone less and go for walks for more, noticing the frost on the naked maples and making smiling eye contact with those I greet on the walking path.
Most obvious to me, I have less anxiety and more space to steady me through my current daily reality of living in a waiting phase of life right now.
I have a long way to go in this, it’s still a daily struggle. That’s ok. After all, this spiritual journey we are all walking is a lifelong one.
The best way to learn how to abide isn’t internet research or intellectual ruminations. (Believe me, I have tried that.) It is something we must enter into experientially. Trying on several contemplative prayer practices over the last while has been truly life-changing. We all know that one-to-one time resting in Jesus is always a good thing. But I sense there is also something to be discovered in the intersection of contemplative prayer and community. That’s why I have decided to try something fun and new. For every Sunday of Advent 2018 (Dec. 2, 9, 16, 23), I am hosting a free online meetup to practice Christian contemplative prayer and meditation together. Find more deets and sign up here.
I look forward to sharing some sacred space with you, and perhaps a cup of tea!