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Thursday, January 5, 2017

Learning to Love

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "The giving of love is an education in itself." Oh, so true!  If you don't believe that then just try to love someone who has been acting "unlovely" for even a tenth of the time and you will see just how much YOU have to learn in order to do just that!  When another offends, the immediate response for most of us is to get our feeling hurt and maybe even to want to offend them right back. We want them to hurt as much as we are hurting - this is human nature. What a huge volume of education we receive from the Holy Spirit's still small voice reminding us that love is not always reciprocated, nor does it always respond immediately or in the ways we would desire!

Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. (Hebrews 10:24 NLT)


Let me just assure you that I am still in the "learning mode" when it comes to this whole "love" thing. I don't have this all figured out, and I don't think I have always received "top notch grades" on that report card! My feelings get hurt just like the next person's. My responses when feelings get control are probably equally as lame as the other person's. My intellect might tell me to do one thing, but my feelings tell me to do another, and then the Spirit of God within me tells me something totally different! Figuring out "how" to love is kind of a process of a whole lot of trial and error - I try a little of this and a little of that - hopefully connecting the dots a little, but sometimes completely messing it up. The good news is that I know I am not on this journey of learning alone! You are right there beside me!

A couple of things I have learned along the way are hopefully worth the sharing, though. First, when I get my feelings hurt it is usually because I expected more from someone or a situation. I have had to stop on more that one occasion to remind myself that those expectations may not have been all that achievable at that particular moment - especially when emotions have run a little too close to the edge for a while. What I find myself doing is adjusting my focus a little - so I see things from a more realistic vantage point. For example, if the two of us were totally stressed out at work and then we responded to each other in hasty comments or hurtful words because of how much "junk" we are carrying around from those circumstances, did we really mean to be that curt or hurtful in our words to each other? Probably not, but since we were carrying all that baggage that the other person didn't really understand we were carrying, we each had unrealistic expectations as to how we thought the other should have acted / reacted.

That leads me to the second thing I have learned - there is a timing issue when it comes to managing our emotions. There may be a moment when we just need to pause before we respond. That moment can make all the difference because we take that deep breath, recenter our thoughts, tamp down the embers of anger that may be starting to ignite, and then be able to speak with just a little less "irritation". Love requires us to not just respond, but to do so in a way that manages the relationship well - not in ways that adds fuel to an already out of control fire! When life has us tied up in knots, the last thing we want to do is pull the knots tighter! While this takes some "learning" on all of our parts, it is well-worth the "learn" to avoid the "burn"!

Lastly, I've found when I begin to look for ways to "motivate" each us toward love I am less focused on the things I have been focusing on that actually keep us from learning to love each other. I will be the first to admit, no one can motivate me - it something that comes from within - but those responses can be "cultivated". When someone else refuses to get angry, I find myself calming down, becoming more reasonable, and being willing to actually talk things through. When someone else responds in compassion to my harried responses, I find myself feeling like someone else cares what I am going through. Sometimes I have to do this a whole lot in my relationships, hardly realizing any "return on my investment" of "cultivating" actions. Yet, when I have refused to accept the anger of another, or the apathy of someone who has just lost their way, I find myself giving above and beyond what I ever thought was possible. It isn't me doing it, you know - it is Jesus in me helping with those responses. I never lose sight of that! Just sayin!